Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play Det. James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs, the roles made famous by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the TV show's heyday. Credit Mann and company for not perpetuating the usual TV show update for the big screen, where the movie winds up being a lame parody of the program (Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard). This film makes a genuine attempt at being something different, and that's admirable.
Admirable, yet mighty boring. Really, really boring. The film looks great, photographed in high definition by Dion Beebe (who also shot Mann's far-superior Collateral). It provides a darker, grittier look than the smoothie-colored pastels Sonny sported 20 years ago. Farrell's face is adorned with stubble, and his character still has a penchant for trendy suit jackets and T-shirts, but he's a far grimmer Sonny than Don Johnson ever was (excepting for that episode where Sonny's wife, played by Sheena Easton, got smoked. Johnson was a morose bastard in that one).
In action that isn't always clear, Crockett and Tubbs go undercover, pitting them against Scarface-like baddies in a Colombian drug cartel and white supremacists in the good ol' U.S. of A. The bad guys are all cartoonish cutouts, especially the white supremacists, covered with tattoos and facial hair and looking all ready to rumble. None of the bad guys distinguish themselves with their performances.
Tom Towles, an actor not among my favorites, tries to show he's badass by chewing gum during every frame he occupies. Directors: Tell your actors to spit their gum out! It's the visual equivalent of claws on a chalkboard. Even the normally reliable Justin Theroux resorts to gnawing at gum to convey toughness. This is a total Keanu Reeves trick, who masticated various chewable products with gusto in Speed.
Yes, Miami Vice is a flick boring enough that I found myself focusing on the gum-chewing. As annoying as it might be, it qualifies as high-level action in a film where the principals spend a lot of time standing around looking sleepy. There are a couple of decent shootouts (one of them being in the white-supremacist home of choice, a dilapidated mobile home), but it's nothing Mann himself hasn't topped in prior films; Heat comes to mind.
Farrell and Foxx never give a sense of two cops working together. In fact, the script splits them up for much of the movie as Sonny scampers off to conduct a goofy affair with a drug-cartel honcho (Gong Li, in need of much overdubbing to make her lines decipherable). The movie is bad enough when dealing with the police work, but when Farrell and Li speed off in a motorboat to begin their tryst, it becomes an all new kind of bad. Farrell and Li--and for that matter, Farrell and Foxx--don't have much screen chemistry, and the film suffers for it.
It appears that Mann made the conscious choice to remove the bright colors and upbeat rock music from the Miami Vice universe in order to distance himself from the original series. A couple of pastels and better music than Audioslave's Chris Cornell whining would've gone a long way to brighten up this muddy affair. A great director and a good cast wind up going nowhere with a decent premise.