RECAP: Miami Vice

Miami Vice (2006): Michael Mann

Crockett and Tubbs, Tubbs and Crockett. Try finding a cooler, more decade-defining duo than those two Miami Vice detectives in the 1980s. They made Miami cool (cooler), pastels cool, and they made it possible to wear t-shirts with sport jackets.

What better way to adapt this hyper-cool TV series than a gritty filmmaker like Michael Mann? OK, a lot better. Mann makes a different movie, a Mann movie, but a good one. And yes, this Crockett and Tubbs are cooler.

Don’t shoot me!

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: When a federal drug sting goes awry, the FBI calls Miami’s top undercover detectives to bust a worldwide cartel operating in Miami. 

Hero (8/10)

The Crockett and Tubbs movie editions need cooler actors. It’s hard to beat the man who coined the word EGOT (for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) and the man who fathered the actress in Fifty Shades of Grey, but Michael Mann found a way. he found the two coolest men on the planet in 2006: Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx.

Looking cool

Farrell, Crockett, Foxx, Tubbs: there’s double letters all over this joint, and that’s cool. The lead actors spend the two-plus hours trying to out-cool each other. Smiles don’t crack, nor to calm demeanors. Each man has a sexy lover, and each man has a shower scene. That’s right, Miami Vice has two shower scenes.

Crockett and Tubbs open Miami Vice racing boats by day and chilling in a club at night. Not any club, a Miami club. Coolness is turned to eleven in Miami, and Crockett and Tubbs pull it off.

Suddenly, the FBI blows a case and Miami’s coolest cops are called to federal drug enforcement duty. Throughout their new adventure Crockett and Tubbs will race boats, bluff with live grenades, fly airplanes, shoot out with Nazis, and spend the evening dancing at a Havana mojito bar.

Cool shit.

The real question raised during Miami Vice is: which detective is cooler? My money’s on Crockett, Colin Farrell. Jamie Foxx is always cool, but his character doesn’t have the boisterousness and slick line delivery of most Foxx characters. No matter, because Jamie Foxx playing hurt is still his team’s best player. Unless. Unless, Colin Farrell looks like this:

Crockett is cool

Farrell’s Crockett isn’t far from other Farrell characters, but that mustache and hair! And that medallion, which seems to multiply throughout the movie. Farrell’s one of the guys on Earth who could pull off that look, and he does it effortlessly. Something tells me that Farrell needs less time than Foxx to get ready in the morning.

More evidence: Tubbs showers with his coworker Trudy (Naomi Harris), which is cool if you can pull that off. Crockett showers with Isabella (Li Gong), the associate and hookup partner of one the world’s most dangerous drug kingpins. Major points for Crockett. Tubbs can fly, though, narrowing the gap.

Oh yeah, they did some acting. You don’t care about that. You saw Miami Vice for cool dudes doing cool shit with cool camera work, and all parties delivered.

Villain (4/10)

Miami Vice has a villain problem. El presidente of the drug cartel that Crockett and Tubbs infiltrate is Montoya (Luis Tosar), a bearded hard case who possesses CIA-level espionage technology. Montoya appears in several scenes. He is not, however the movie’s villain.

That honor belongs to Jose Yero (John Ortiz). For some time Crockett and Tubbs believe Yero the chief of the cartel. They strike an initial deal with Yero, and Yero is the one who disbelieves the backstory of the detectives. Yero blows up the Nazi trailer that almost kills Trudy.

Yero on the left, less cool than Crockett and Tubbs.

Credit to Yero, he’s the only cartel member who distrusts Crockett and Tubbs from the start. They are too clean, he says to Montoya. To the detectives he says, “How you drop loads I don’t like.” Also, he doesn’t like how Crockett looks. How can you dislike Crockett’s look?

Montoya and Isabella both call him back from barking at the undercover cops, and he must abide. Despite this, he works the case without their knowledge. Yero, from his base in a casino in Paraguay, asks the Nazis to ruin a Montoya drug deal in Miami by kidnapping Trudy to force Crockett and Tubbs into cooperation. Instead of obeying, Crockett and Tubbs find the Nazis, rescue Trudy, and kill her captors.

But perhaps Yero is just jealous. He sees Crockett making moves on Isabella, and it’s clear he doesn’t like it one bit. Never mind that Isabella was Yero’s boss’s woman not Yero’s, Yero has a thing, and Crockett’s moving in on that. Bad news. When he meets Isabella and Crockett in his Ciudad del Esta club, he rattles off the clubs he owns like a player who’s playing the hustle game badly.

After Yero convinces his boss of Isabella’s importance and perhaps betrayal, he convinces himself that he controls her. Yero shows up to the final meet with Crockett and Tubbs boasting that Isabella is his now. They are a couple. He’s the villain, but his self delusion evokes pity. Poor Yero, he might be a good drug dealer, but he’ll never understand women. Also, pity him for getting shot to death with a potato-sized round.

Action/Effects (5/10)

You can expect gunfire in a Michael Mann film, and Miami Vice delivers. The bullet-riddled finale I detail below. Here I’ll discuss the attack on the Nazi compound.

Nazis capture Trudy and take her to a singel-wide hideout near the airport. Time is short for all the parties in Vice, as they have to rescue Trudy within the 30 minutes allowed by the Nazis.

Crockett and Tubbs are on the fast boats delivering drugs to Yero’s people when they get the call about Trudy. They know the Nazi’s will kill her the moment the drugs show up, so they don’t waste words debating what to do.

Lucikly their boss, Castillo (Barry Shabak Henley) flies a chopper above the city. Crockett tells him to go to the airport (because they heard a jet on the call) and search for a trailer with a lot of aerials. Success.

Crockett and Tubbs bail out of their boats beneath a bridge and ride in squad cars to the site. Crockett, Tubbs, and Gina tote guns and surround the trailer. Crockett chokes out a huge Nazi watching the trailer, putting him to sleep with his gun barrel, as Gina crawls under the trailer, drills a hole in the floor, and inserts a fiber optic camera like some Mission: Impossible shit. She spots Trudy.

You’ve been out-cooled

Tubbs tricks them with the fake pizza delivery trick. When one Nazi comes to the door to tell Tubbs to fuck off, he gets the surprise of his life and is thrown to the ground. Tubbs and Gina easily enter the trailer. They find the tables turned, as the lead Nazi holds a detonator for the explosives wrapped around Trudy’s neck. The camera is right on top of Tubbs’s face as he sees his beloved blindfolded. He maintains composure and lets Gina do the talking, concerned his voice would change the dynamic.

Four Nazis are inside the trailer: detonator man, another adult male, a teenaged male and his presumed mother. The kid draws a switchblade and charges Tubbs. Tubbs smacks him in the mouth with a pistol butt, dodges a blow from the adult attacking from behind, picks up the boy’s dropped switchblade to stab the man in the gut, and calmly points the gun on the detonator man.

Gina gets her moment to shine. The detonator guy is talking tough, like he’s gonna blow the place up. “That’s not what happens,” Gina says. Her plan is to put a bullet into his medulla at 2,700 feet per second. “You will be dead from the neck down before your body knows it.” She does exactly that, and Trudy’s saved.

Saved long enough to walk outside and barely escape the explosion Yero set off when he tapped into the closed circuit feed and blew the place.

Michael Mann likes to shoot on location, so he favors handheld cameras filming in the actors’ faces. You feel like you’re there, and in Miami Vice that seems even more true than other Mann films. I can’t understand how actors can act with multiple cameras whirring in their personal space, but they manage it.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Crockett and Tubbs are surrounded by a competent if out-of-place support team. Trudy and Gina (Elizabeth Rodriguez) fit perfectly. They look tough and fit in amongst glamorous underworld types. Ditto the hulking, bald Stan (Domenick Lombardozzi, Herc from The Wire). What was Justin Theroux doing there? I never bought him as a cop, especially a detective who would sometimes do undercover work.

I know these are Crockett and Tubbs again, but aren’t they cool?

Trudy is Tubbs’s love interest, and her abduction by Nazis shakes up the second act. She’s troubled tied to a plastic chair in a trailer by the airport, but never lets her position as a cop or as Tubbs’s lover interfere with Vice’s work. In a diner stateside, Trudy tells Tubbs to not think of her. “If your attention is distracted you will miss something coming at you,” she says. Worry or not, Tubbs couldn’t have stopped the Nazis from snatching Trudy from her front porch.

The support team, aside from Trudy, gets few lines. This is where I shout out my boy Ciarán Hinds. Ever since he played Julius Caesar on Rome I’ve cheered when his name showed up in credits. He plays an FBI agent whose busted drug bust leads to recruiting Crockett and Tubbs to undercover work.

Henchmen (6/8)

Mann movies make points to inject forbidden love stories into his movies, Miami Vice being no exception. Isabella is an interesting character. She appears in the first Yero, Crockett, and Tubbs meeting in Haiti. She speaks little, but it’s clear that Yero obeys her.

Chinese-Cuban Isabella

Isabella’s role in the cartel is unclear. She does accounting and advising, and sexing Montoya. Fingers in many pots, she has

Stunts (2/6)

Kudos to Michael Mann for showing how insane Florida drivers are. Crockett and Tubbs drive and John Hawkes’s character Alonzo drive, and both times at maximum speed on the freeway. Later, Isabella grabs the wheel of Crockett’s car and forces the car to spin around, face oncoming traffic, and stop. On the freeway. Florida makes people insane, and they play out their foibles on the roads.

Early in the movie, Crockett and Tubbs raid one of Yero’s dope facilities. They steal the uncut drugs and grenade the boats that brought them to shore. Now comes a shot I love. The camera is fixed on the items about to explode. The editing allows a long enough pause to build anticipation, enough time to allow your brain to process what’s about to happen. It’s a bit of old folk wisdom that anticipation can be the greatest pleasure.

You anticipate that those fast boats will explode. The boats occupy the lower third of the frame. In theory the other two thirds are for the resulting fireball. When those suckers blow, and the fireball licks the top of the frame, oh that’s a great feeling. Aristotle was wrong: anticipation fulfilled is life’s greatest pleasure.

Climax (3/6)

Crockett and Tubbs roll out from the Scottish Rite building toward the trade point. Just as their boss predicted, the drop location changed at the last moment. It’s an old shipyard. Rusted freighters provide ample sniper locations, and we see the Nazis set up around the area with their rifles and three-inch-long bullets.

The head detective can’t see the shooters, of course, because that would be too easy. He asks for Crockett and Tubbs to stall. Uh, these aren’t the chattiest guys. Maybe they should let Justin Theroux sweet talk them. Crockett and Tubbs have enormous guns.

I WANT TO RIDE GO FAST BOATS!

The way the deal will go down is laid out. One side looks at the money, the other side the dope. Then Yero pops in to say, “Not so fast, ese.” More or less that. He’s got Isabella with him, and not in a friendly way. Although he claims that  “We a couple now.” Yero was very, very jealous of Crockett this whole time. Crockett’s eyes go wide, in the most uncontrolled look of either hero in the movie.

Castillo still can’t spot a shooter with his heat-signature camera as Crockett demands Isabella be the one to see the dope. Isabella goes. A Nazi holds her back. She takes his gun and pistol whips him. Yero says it’s OK, so she goes. Crockett wastes no time backing her away after she crosses paths with Stan the man with the giant shotgun.

Castillo finally spots two shooters and orders his sniper to fire. Crockett hears the order and ducks behind a car with Isabella. Both Nazi snipers are killed, and now the gunfight starts.

Stan ducks behind an SUV as its Nazi driver attempts to escape. Stan points his shotgun at the back window, fires, and the driver’s blood splatters the interior.

A wide space of gravel separates the two teams, which shelter behind cars. All the bad guys forgot about Stan, who ices another baddie.

Lots of shooting. The camera does a neat trick. A cameraperson kneels behind a bad guy. That bad guy is shot. Then the cameraperson gets up and runs to another bad guy before turning and running backward to a more protected location. It’s one of the most blatant camera intrusions I can remember, and it made the battle more and less real. I felt closer to the action, as if I was running amongst the Nazis, yet the cameraperson never got shot, never seemed in danger. Interesting choice.

Car hoods popping everywhere, the four cops on one side start shouting “Go” at each other. They try to flank the enemy, who outnumber them, with Crockett and Tubbs on the right and Gina and Theroux’s character on the left. Theroux is the first cop shot. Hit in the leg, he rolls behind large tires and uses his belt to cut the bleeding.

Tubbs sneaks up on a Nazi and blasts him with the shotgun. Crockett holds back and starts chatting on a walkie talkie with the police. Isabella, left behind a car, sees this, and knows what it means. A police chopper and SWAT are streaming in, all too fast.

Gina and Crockett ice two more guys. Tubbs sprints up a large piece of equipment, shoots more enemies. Yero, shooting from the hip now, making a show of things without being at all effective, is escorted away by a Nazi.

Tubbs lands, steadies himself, and puts three bullets in the large Nazi and his white suit. Yero shouts “NO!” and fires at Tubbs. Tubbs rolls forward and somehow finds the time to draw another gun, which appears to be a grenade launcher. Tubbs plugs a round into Yero, knocking him back a spraying the rusting side of a ship with blood. Whatever Tubbs shot Yero with, it didn’t explode, but could not have been a bullet.

The cops stream in to waste the rest of the Nazis, and Isabella sees Crockett’s neck badge. She walks to him. “Who are you?” Crockett struggles to keep Isabella under cover. Theroux rolls out and shoots another Nazi. The last one is the head of the operation, and he’s spotted Isabella and Crockett. Turning his sights on the lovelorn, so lovelorn pair, he doesn’t predict Crockett will take himself to the ground, and misses.

Crockett rakes his gun across the under side of the SUV, hitting the Nazi’s leg, sending the jerk to the ground. Crockett lets Isabella go one moment, enough to place two rounds in the skinhead’s skin head.

These are our shootout suits.

The battle over, Crockett is left with one criminal to deal with. Isabella is about to be arrested, but no one knows it yet. Crockett eyes Tubbs, who looks at him like, “Aw hell no, Sonny,” asks if Theroux is OK (he’s fine), and borrows a car to drive down to the Keys.

Not so fast. Isabella is not a woman to be caged. She waits until they cruise on the freeway to attack Crockett, grabbing the wheel and turning the car completely around, tires burning. Crockett busts out the plastic cuffs, peels the car back into the correct direction, and drives the rest of the night to a hideout in the Keys.

Crockett calls his buddy Frank, and they wait. “Remember I said, ‘Time is luck,'” Isabella says. “Luck ran out,” Crockett says. “This was too good to last.”

As Isabella sails away in Frank’s boat, Trudy twitches her fingers in the hospital, wakes up, and lives again.

Jokes (0/4)

Crockett and Tubbs seem like guys who have never once laughed. They probably watched Blazing Saddles and just nodded at the jokes.

Setting (4/4)

I’m in Miami bitch….

Michael Mann knows how to make the streets look good. Somehow a nighttime meeting on the side of a busy freeway does not look like a nightmare scenario in front of a Mann lens. If lanes of asphalt can look good, imagine the sunny beaches of Miami.

Or don’t. Watch Miami Vice. Mann is on fire capturing scenes in this film. Several times we see planes flying through towering cloud pillars in a blue sky, as if the planes were the only objects existing.

Cuidad del Este, sitting on the triple border of Argentine, Brazil, and Paraguay, is a black market hotbed. Michael Mann admitted that he committed piracy in buying a $2 DVD. One scene shows Montoya driving along a street littered with packing styrofoam from the boxes of electronics sold in the city each day.

Any time a movie dips into a club is a good time. In Mee-yami the dancers wear full-body silver latex suits to entice the customers to shake booties and buy three drinks for $100, as Crockett does in the early club scene. If no one’s dancing in Miami, head to Havana for some real swing music and the world’s best mojitos. Even Port-au-Prince, (actually Santo Domingo) capital of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, looks cool when Crockett and Tubbs grace its streets.

Maybe that’s the formula: take a setting, add Crockett and Tubbs, get coolness. These guys could make Schindler’s List cool. Make you want to sail the Titanic. Make the Jurassic Park dinosaurs Netflix and chill. Make Darth Vader kick back with a G ‘n’ T.

Commentary (1/2)

Miami is a global city, and its connections to Latin America are brightly portrayed in Miami Vice. Scenes occur outside Miami as often as they do inside it.

Compare this movie to the Miami-based Shwotime series Dexter, which also premiered in 2006. Dexter follows homicide detectives and its resident blood-splatter expert/serial killer Dexter. Now, this might be a matter of budget, but Dexter never sets foot outside the US. When the FBI shows up it’s portrayed as a serious invasion of one’s turf.

Meanwhile, Crockett and Tubbs jet back and forth to Haiti and Colombia, which Crockett drives a boat to Havana for a nightcap. Global crime syndicates land New York-bound dope on Miami docks, ready to drive up America’s drug trail, I-95. This same syndicate operates in Ukraine and Paraguay and is run partly by a Cuban woman of Chinese ancestry.

Perhaps Miami’s interconnectivity is what made the white supremacists so active in the area. But if whites are so great, why are they living in trailers and dealing with Latinos?

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Surprising how a movie that shows several white supremacists avoids racial discussion or offensiveness. Maybe it was watching bullets cave in their heads that made it worthwhile.

Others

  • For the whole movie I thought the bald cop was Turtle from Entourage.
  • Holy shit Kevin Durant looks like Jamie Foxx.
  • Shout out to Michael Mann for boldly casting Eddie Marsan as a southern criminal, an actor who would later play Mr. Norrell, a bewigged English magician. Boldness.

Summary (35/68): 51%

Miami Vice pays homage to the television series Michael Mann helped create, but in only the way Michael Mann can pay homage: the Michael Mann way.

That was a cool sentence, right? I’m trying to be half as cool, no, a tenth as cool, as the guys in Miami Vice. How else can Jamie Foxx say, “Let’s take it to the limit,” and not sound like a dork?

He’s cool.