Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are undercover cops in-deep into Miami’s underbelly drug world. To bring down a Cuban cartel, the lads go deeper still, posing as hard-ass drug-runners to get close to Mr Big. But Crockett soon has eyes for the cartel’s first lady (Chinese star Gong Li). It’s a dangerous game, and we know what happened to the last undercover guys whose cover was blown: mown down in the film’s virtuoso shocker-scene, with bullets like bombs.
Mann loves to prowl the night-time streets. Collateral took place through one long night; Heat’s action is pretty much after-hours. And Miami Vice is no different, Mann’s hand-held camera capturing the neon-cityscape and broody night skies. Jamie Foxx, working with Mann after Collateral, doesn’t seem to mind. Yet it’s Farrell’s long-haired tough-nut, Crockett, who Mann follows most. Character, though, is perfunctory and assumed – Farrell looks the part, but Foxx is less compelling. But, there’s hardly any need to act as Mann creates the mood mostly through pictures. It’s a relief, then, when things are enlivened by a scene-stealer cameo from rising Brit actor Eddie Marsan - completing his impressive roll-call of four blockbuster pop-ups this summer, as a crime-world fixer-upper.
Mann certainly knows how to move a camera. The claustrophobic tension of the undercover life is cleverly created through up-close camera-work – hip high, by-the-ear, close-as-the-soap in the shower scenes: sit on the back rows, or you’ll be begging the camera to stand back, which it only rarely does. Most effective is Mann’s shooting of skies to colour in Farrell’s character – gloomy darks, angry-stormy greys, cool blues for love. The result is a thriller seen more through the joint lens of Terence Malik and Michael Mann – meandering, moody shots of nature with the added gloss of sheeny cars, sexy skin and gun-metal glints. Mann’s gone heavy on textures – strokey skin, tangly telegraph wires, speedboat surf – as if to say, when you’re undercover, your senses are heightened, you see everything.
But there’s the rub, you don’t. Certainly not in the action scenes. Too long awaited, they’re gone in a blaze of disoriented disappointment. Humourless and action-starved, Vice is hard going.
If you’re longing for an iconic, pumped-up, mano-e-mano crime thriller then slap on the DVD of Heat, Mann’s classic. Because, sad to say, Colin Farrell’s mustachioed, beefed-up Sonny Crockett is the only iconic thing about this so-so, ho-hum, too-dull film.