So what the hell went wrong with Miami Vice? Michael Mann’s latest film made about half of its cost at the box office. It was a solid, gritty cop thriller, with a plot you could follow, and with characters you could care for. It starred Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell, and was released in the summer. A guaranteed blockbuster. What happened? Is this a new trend – summer blockbusters must be over-the-top loud and offensively dumb? The same thing happened a year ago with The Island – it was smarter than the usual Michael Bay picture and starred unusually compelling characters (as opposed to meatheads and dumb blondes). The audiences rejected it, and the subsequent DVD release was OK. Will Miami Vice follow the same pattern – too smart to make any money? Too stylish to appeal to wide audiences? Or was the film just too damn expensive? Read on to find out what we think (and what you should be thinking as well).
Michael Mann likes characters and locations. He can get bogged down with details, and leave massive holes in plot (this rarely happens, thanks to editing), but the locations and people are always a top priority for him. You can tell by that split second that a camera pauses on a street scape, or a face, or a movement – that moment is there for a reason. Mann indulges in it, and often, the payoff is great. Do you remember the streets in Manhunter, or Collateral? How about the windy beach/ rainy city contrast in The Insider? Places tell their own story, way before any of the characters open their mouths. Some people don’t like that, but I prefer that abandon. In Miami Vice, this trend continues – the camera stays just a little longer on places, and on people in the middle of an action, telling us a little bit more about their world. Sure, it’s a bit too much information for a thriller, but in a drama, that’s what creates the tension – things expressed without words. You may say it’s style over substance, but I see it as style on top of substance, driving the plot, contrasting the shady slums with exotic beaches. Perhaps the movie looked a lot like CSI: Miami, and people didn’t care much. Well, I’d say it’s a compliment to CSI: Miami and their art department. How many recent films can you name that look this good?
The characters will be familiar to people old enough to remember the original TV series. However, pairing two cops might just be a little tired … unless that pairing works. Before you dismiss it as a formula, consider the short exchanges between the two – they work well together, they’re believable. So I ask again, why did the movie fail? Could it be the high-speed chases and slow-dancing in clubs? The obligatory R&B version of the original theme? That was probably too much – I guess Michael Mann had little say about it – sure the movie studios wanted to push the soundtrack into the store shelves. But beyond that, what else turned people off? The vicious drug smugglers? The lush jungle of Colombia? The love interest that’s half-written? Show me a movie with a fully-developed female character and I’ll show you a superior movie – just base on that one aspect.
Miami Vice couldn’t reach its audience in the summer. Perhaps it was too smart, perhaps – too stylish. Maybe people didn’t want to think too hard, and the plot was overwhelming. None of these are negatives. Pick it up at your nearest rental when it’s released on DVD. Michael Mann may not be in his best shape, but this film is still far better than other cop thrillers out there right now. Follow the camera, let it tell you a fascinating story of love, drugs, betrayal and cops. With a little touch of Florida.