Party time is over in Miami.
There are no neon landscapes, girls prancing around in thong bikinis, or sandy beaches in this Miami Vice, which is a dramatic upgrade from its glitzy, cheesy 1980s television show inspiration. There's not even one shot of the tourist trap that is South Beach, which is often the first thing that comes to people's minds when they think of Miami.
What writer/director Michael Mann does give us is a film that strips the city of its glossy, neon-colored sheen and leaves a hot and stormy venue of espionage and intrigue. It's a smart move: the raw and gritty reality plays perfectly into the world in which MPD detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) find themselves after going undercover to infiltrate an international drug cartel.
The drug ring is headed by Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar), but is actually run by his minions Isabella (Gong Li) and Jose Yero (John Ortiz). It is with Isabella that Crockett begins a lustful affair, clearly blurring the lines between personal and professional as they become infatuated with one another. Tubbs' love interest is Trudy (Naomie Harris), a fellow cop who understands how dangerous the game can be.
Those expecting two hours of gunfights and car chases should know that this is a character-driven crime drama, not an action movie. A few speed boat sequences (not chases), explosions, and an electrifying shootout do keep the tempo high, but this movie is really about drugs, betrayals, passion, and making sense of a corrupt world that ostensibly deserves no forgiveness.
It should come as no surprise that Mann is the one behind this story. Not only was he one of the original executive producers when Anthony Yerkovich created the TV series in the mid-'80s, but he also has a knack for finding the humanity in characters who would ordinarily be mere caricatures in an action movie (see Heat).
As played by Farrell and Foxx, Crockett and Tubbs are professionals who understand the ramifications of their actions yet nonetheless engross themselves in their perilous work. It has been rumored that Foxx, who at the time of shooting was fresh off his Oscar win for Ray, was difficult to work with on the set, but there are no signs of it in the movie. The other actors are solid as well, including Barry Shabaka Henley, who fills Edward James Olmos' shoes as Lt. Castillo, and Ciaran Hinds ( HBO's Rome) as the FBI agent who begrudgingly approves the mission.
It's an interesting choice to cast popular Chinese actress Gong Li as Isabella, because the only requirements of the role are to act tough, look pretty, and speak Spanish; some may say a Hispanic actress (Eva Mendes, anyone?) would have been more appropriate for the role. In truth, though, it doesn't matter what ethnicity the character is — Li plays it well, and deserves credit for a job well done.
By shooting mostly at night, Mann and cinematographer Dion Beebe achieve the same look and feel as they did with Los Angeles in Collateral, which sets the perfect mood of lurking danger behind the perception that everything is all right. Special kudos also go to costume designer Janty Yates, who has the courtesy to not dress Sonny in the tacky white suits that made Don Johnson famous 20 years ago.
To be sure, this is not your father's Miami Vice. This is a modernized, unsentimental look at how Miami is used to traffic drugs throughout the United States, and the people responsible to stop it from happening. Let's just thank our lucky stars that Crockett and Tubbs are doing it without the stubble and the pastel shirts.