Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five Reasons Why "Miami Vice" Is Not a Good Movie

1)  The cast.  Jamie Foxx as Tubbs was smart.  Naomie Harris, a criminally underemployed actress from England, is excellent as Trudy.  But Colin Farrell as Sonny?  To hide his Irish accent, he lowered his voice an octave or two.  It doesn't work.  And then there's the unfortunate hair decisions:  the droopy Morgan Spurlock mustache, the mullet.  He looks, and sounds, out of place.  But he comes off way better than Gong Li, a beautiful woman and excellent actress who nevertheless does not speak English

The producers would have been wise to hire an English-speaking actress to overdub her dialogue.  I'm guessing few people would have noticed.  Or, here's a revolutionary idea, allow her to speak Chinese.  Subtitles are not the deal breaker they used to be, and that could have been used for dramatic effect.

Since Sonny can drive Go-Fast boats, fly planes, engage in tactical operations, surely it wouldn't stretch the imagination too far if he also speak Chinese, which would have given him reason to hook up with Gong Li's character --they speak the same language-- much more than the one that director Michael Mann gave them:  These are my leads and I need a romantic sub-plot.

Yes, a goofy lifeless one in which your male lead looks and sounds ridiculous and your female lead speaks in an unintelligble phonetic pidgin.

2)  The plot.  I've seen this movie more than five times now, and I still don't think I can summarize what's going on.  There's the Aryan Brotherhood.  There's Columbian drug dealers operating out of Cuba.  (Maybe they're Cuban?)  There's an FBI taskforce teaming up with city cops that apparently have unlimited budget resources.  Yes, I realize it's a bit silly to watch a crime movie and wonder about who's doing the accounting for all the smuggling boats and the jets, but it's hard not to when you have undercover Miami cops who have the equipment and permission (!) to engage in major Sealand battles.

3)  Michael Mann.  Don't get me wrong.  I thoroughly enjoy Michael Mann movies, but I've seen enough of them to also thoroughly not enjoy his weaknesses.  He's got a keen eye for the visually striking image.  His subject matter --cops and killers-- is always interesting.  I've always liked his penchant for realistic gun violence. 

But he always has to work in some lukewarm romantic subplot, almost like he's chasing the success of The Last of the Mohicans, whose romantic subplot worked so well precisely because it wasn't lukewarm.  You cried when Daniel Day Lewis saved Madeline Stowe from the evil Indians in Mohicans.  Bet you didn't do anything but blink when Colin Farrell said goodbye to a weeping Gong Li in Miami Vice.

4)  The lack of humor.  This has been a problem for Michael Mann during his entire career.  I mean, I really enjoyed Ali, but Michael Mann had Will Smith (!) playing Muhammad Ali (!) and it's never funny?  What a wasted opportunity.  Ali was a great boxer and an inspiration, but he was also a very funny man.  You don't have to make the damn thing a comedy to have some lightness to it.

Just look at Schindler's List.  It's perhaps the most gut-wrenching movie about the Holocaust ever made, but sprinkled in all that monochrome organized murder are some funny moments.  The humor enhances the drama. 

I think the last funny moment in a Michael Mann movie was when Al Pacino talked about Ashley Judd's "GREAT ass!" in Heat, and that was not only improvised by Pacino, it was almost twenty years ago.

5)  Style over Substance.  Yes, Mann pioneered using HD digital cameras to "see into the night."  Yes, he's great at finding exotic locations.  I really do have a soft spot for those magic hour shots of someone staring out onto a body of water.  Really beautiful.

But I've watched less-beautiful movies with more heart.  I've watched dumber movies with more heart.  But the only movies I've seen that are so slick, so well-made and so emotionally cold are movies made by Michael Mann.

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