Miami Vice (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy)

Miami Vice is Michael Mann's attempt to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Not only was it filmed in ten different countries, but the dialogue should be delivered with subtitles. Irishman Colin Farrell plays Sonny Crockett and Irishman Ciaran Hinds plays an FBI agent named Fujima (a Japanese-American with an Irish accent?). The finest bit of acting was contributed by Chinese superstar Gong Li who, in order to fit into the cast, learned to speak both English and Spanish with an Irish accent.

I kid.

But not really.

To be serious for a moment, I have to admit that I was totally engrossed in this film, which is amazing when you consider that I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on. It grabbed me from the first shots, and held my attention for almost the full length of every scene, although a few scenes go on too long in real time with no additional point to the extended time (like a shower scene with Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris). The cinematography and editing are excellent. The soundtrack works perfectly with the visuals to maintain steady tension and an ongoing sense of paranoia. The scenes in Havana were actually filmed in Havana; the scenes at Iguazu Falls were filmed there; the scenes in Port au Prince were filmed there; and so forth.

While there is essentially no action in the first 90 minutes of the film, there is the omnipresent sense that things might blow up at any minute. In the past I have been a strong opponent of the film school which preaches that the mysterious absence of action is, in itself, a form of action. I strongly dislike movies like Picnic at Hanging Rock in which nothing is actually significant but everything seems significant in context. Two guys walk down a mountain trail together. That's it. That's the action. But it works, or at least it is supposed to work, because something terrible may have happened on that mountain. Some girls disappeared there. Or did they? Well, you get the idea, which is that even everyday events - i.e. "nothing" - can be significant in context. But the practical implementation of that theory has never really worked for me. I find Picnic at Hanging Rock to be a total bore. Thus I was surprised to see that the mere foreboding, absent the actual boding, worked for me in the first half of Miami Vice. Michael Mann maintains the constant feeling that something is about to go wrong, and he does so in order to place the audience into the paranoid mindset of undercover cops. We feel what they feel, and often that means we feel like we aren't going to leave the room alive.

In order to understand the film's atmosphere and characterization, and even to buy into the likelihood of the plot developments, it is essential to answer a question for yourself. Why would guys like Crockett and Tubbs do what they do? They live with the treat of exposure every minute of their lives. They are apparently 100% honest, which means we can rule out the profit motive and assume that they risk their lives for the paycheck of a vice officer in his 30s. Maybe a grand a week? So why do they do it? The answer is that they get off on it. They get off on standing unarmed, face-to-face with the toughest-ass cocaine barons, who are backed by legions of men armed with AK-47s. They get off on telling the entire U.S. Government to stuff it, because they're going to do it their way. They want to be on the edge all of the time. They're addicted to their own adrenalin. If you don't buy into that, you will never get past the film's driving force: the relationship between Sonny and the scheming girlfriend of a drug lord. At first you will assume that Crockett is starting up the relationship in order to get deeper into the ... er ... organization, but it turns out that he's just a guy making a move on a woman. Maybe it's even true love. It is possible that his feelings for her will blow his own team's undercover op. It's equally possible that the drug lord will find out and have them both fed to sharks. But, as he says, he's "not playing around, this is real." He's getting off on risk, and romancing the drug lord's woman is the riskiest, most reckless thing he can do, because it puts him on the wrong side of good guys and bad.

Having offered my share of praise for the superb direction of this film and my defense of its premise, I have to add that I consider it a great disappointment. "Why," you are thinking, "because it's not like the series?" No, not at all. I think that it is a perfect update of the series. The film did for 21st century Miami what the TV show did for the same world a quarter of a century earlier. Each of them captured the zeitgeist of its own time and place. The reason for my disappointment is that the script wasn't really worth producing in the first place. It is a formulaic cops-and-robbers plot with too many undeveloped characters and far too much confusion. There were times when I didn't even know how all the bad guys fit together. In addition, there's nothing special about the dialogue, there's no comic relief at all, and there's no memorable villain. Without Michael Mann's genius, this would have been a routine two-hour special episode of a TV cop show. Even with Mann's genius, the film leaves no lasting impression other than it was continually, unrelentingly intense. 'Tis a shame. Mann should have left the project on the back burner until he truly had something special. If he had done that, given a great script and his own considerable talent, he might have made one of the greatest crime films of all time. As it is, he just made a film which sizzles for a very long 135 minutes and then announces that the kitchen is closed and there will be no steak dinner. While I very much enjoyed the smell of steak, I left the theater hungry.



  • Miami Vice Undercover
  • Miami & Beyond: Shooting on Location
  • Visualizing Miami Vice
  • Behind the Scenes Featurettes
  • Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Michael Mann
  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1


  • Naomie Harris - full rear nudity and the side of her breasts seen directly, full frontal reflected in a shower door.

  • Gong Li - one breast in a very dark sex scene, the side of a breast in a shower scene.

  • Jamie Foxx shows his bum.

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus: just slightly more than two stars out of four. Mail 6/10, Telegraph 6/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 8/10, Times 2/10, Sun 6/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 6/10, FT 2/10, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Buoyed by name recognition, Vice opened strong, and was the first film to knock Pirates 2 from its perch atop the box office. It did not have very good word-of-mouth, however, and dropped 60% in week two. It never topped Pirates again after that first week. The final tally was $63 million, compared to an enormous budget of nearly $150 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+. It is a very good movie, and yet it seems that it should have been a great one and never quite made it.

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