I suppose we all have specific filmmakers we just don't warm to. Michael Mann falls into that category for me. Alongside David Lynch and Ron Howard, he is a director I can respect and admire, even if I just don't enjoy his work. It's funny that the only two Mann films I can get into are considered his most commercial and (as his many fans may argue) the least typical of his signature style and aesthetic. Those two films are 'The Last of the Mohicans' and 'Collateral,' both of which I like because they balance Mann's usual seriousness and pretension with more interesting elements (in the case of the 'Mohicans,' it is a very lyrical visual style, and the 'Collateral,' the most unlikable performance Tom Cruise has ever given). But as for the core canon of Mann's work -- including 'Heat,' 'Manhunter,' 'The Insider' -- I just don't get them.
So now we have 'Miami Vice,' a movie Mann once swore he had no interest in making. Based on Mann's own seminal '80s TV cop show, the original series was cutting-edge and pioneering in its time, if now horribly dated. Think blue suits with pastel t-shirts, white loafers, hot pink Ferraris, a Jan Hammer theme song and gritty (at least for '80s TV) action. And, of course, Crockett and Tubbs -- TV's most famous detectives and perhaps the pinnacle of both Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas' careers. These guys were, for at least a couple of years in the mid-'80s, the hottest thing around. Men wanted to be like them, women wanted to sleep with them, and despite Johnson's ill-advised foray into pop music (remember "Heartbeat"?), you could not find two cooler stars anywhere on the planet.
Of course, any pop culture relic that defined the '80s is now confined by it, and so it goes with 'Miami Vice.' Perhaps it's impossible that Mann could have reimagined the concept for the big screen without throwing out all that we knew and loved about the original series. The cheesy fashions, the new wave music, the TV-ready melodrama -- it's all been decimated. Unfortunately, so too is much of the fun. 'Miami Vice' 2006-style is deadly serious, and owes far more of a debt to Mann's 'Heat' or such recent hardcore cop films like 'Narc' and 'Running Scared' than to the legacy left by Johnson and Philips.
Instead, we get Colin Farrell as a greasy Crockett, and Jamie Foxx as a rather boring, by-the-book Tubbs. We also get some loud if nondescript action accompanied by a surprising amount of talky drama and supposed detective intrigue. Plus Gong Li as the Chinese-Cuban wife of an arms and drugs trafficker, who will (of course) fall in love with Crockett, and the usual Mann visual excess, all glittering surfaces and Miami montages. And, oh yeah, one of the most incomprehensible plots of any major motion picture I've ever seen. It doesn't help that most of the film's dialogue is mumbled (see the audio portion of this review below), but even if I had understood every word, I doubt it would have helped.
On the bright side, there is enough pumped up drama here to keep things mildly interesting. I liked how Mann contrasts the more playboy-like Crockett with the more cerebral Tubbs, and lets the friction propel the plot, and even the Gong Li stuff was fine, as she and Farrell ignite decent enough chemistry. But Mann only nips at his intended themes of identity versus image -- as Crockett and Tubbs descend further into the darker recesses of the case, lines between cop and criminal, right and wrong, good and evil, all begin to merge. Unfortunately, Mann doesn't go far enough with such intriguing notions, so all the heavy-handed "grittiness" feels false and affected. Had 'Miami Vice' ultimately been about something, or had it even matched the resonance I felt 'Collateral' achieved, Mann's sour-puss seriousness might have worked better.
In my opinion, 'Miami Vice' would have been far more entertaining as a full-on 'Brady Bunch' parody. As is, we have a big-budget (over $100 million) action film that is far less individual and memorable than the supposedly campy '80s series that spawned it. Ultimately, when we hear the words 'Miami Vice' twenty years from now, are we going to think of the television series, or the movie? Unfortunately for this film, I think it is the former.
Though perhaps not as high-profile as a George Lucas, Michael Mann has quickly become one of cinema's leading proponents of digital filmmaking. As he did with 'Collateral,' Mann chose to shoot 'Miami Vice' using primarily HD cameras. Unfortunately, I was not very impressed with the results. Even more video-esque looking than 'Collateral,' 'Miami Vice' has the chintzy veneer of a 'Cops' episode -- it's like bad reality TV in high-definition.
'Miami Vice' comes as part of a trio of HD DVD re-issues that Universal is streeting on the same day (along with 'End of Days' and 'U-571'). If nothing else, it shows that the studio is really mixing it up on Blu-ray, with all three titles a mix of new encodes, revamped soundtracks and, in some cases, repurposed extras. 'Miami Vice' gets a 1080p/VC-1 encode, with the bitrate generally higher than the HD-30 dual-layer version, as the Blu-ray makes full use of the extra space available on a BD-50 dual-layer disc. Unfortunately, the extra bits don't really help source material as problematic as this. 'Miami Vice,' while accurate to the theatrical presentation I saw, is not an image I particularly enjoyed watching.
As there is no source print to speak of, the transfer looks very clean and shiny. The problem is video noise -- it's rampant throughout, especially in any remotely dark scene with subdued lighting. Blacks can also look flat and washed out, while whites bloom and smear frequently. Colors are well saturated, especially the steel blues of nighttime Miami, and lush greens and oranges in the daylight. Fleshtones are fine all things considered, but Mann often favors a slightly dour, reddish tint that left me cold. Overall depth and detail are good, but again that's in comparison to other shot-on-video material -- the HD formats Mann used for 'Miami Vice' can't compete with the depth and cleanliness of 35mm film or even Super35. I give this transfer credit for being representative of its source, but visually 'Miami Vice' just isn't my cup of tea.
Universal continues to prove their forced move to Blu-ray from the HD DVD format is no token gesture. They've exceeded the HD DVD audio presentation (which offered a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track), giving us a fresh DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) high-res mix. It doesn't completely fix all of the problem areas with the film's source material, but it's a heck of a lot better.
The best elements of the mix sounds can be found in the film's action sequences. Rears snap, crackle, and pop with explosions and gunfire, with pans and imaging far superior on the DTS-MA track. The mix is on the bright side (there is a harshness to all the gunplay that quickly grows tiresome), but movement of sounds in the rears is excellent, with a force of sound that fully envelopes. Dynamics in these scenes are excellent; highs are clean (if again bright) and the subwoofer noticeably stronger than before. The score by John Murphy is also impressively integrated, with wonderful score bleed throughout that is almost like an other character in the surrounds.
Unfortunately, my biggest complaint with the previous HD DVD is still present, if to a lesser degree, which is that I couldn't hear much of the dialogue. 'Miami Vice' is a very talky film, and with the plot already nearly incomprehensible, it doesn't help that dialogue sounds low and mumbled, and further obscured by score and effects. To be fair, the DTS-MA mix is much better here, with the front channel in particular sounding more pronounced even after volume level matching, but I still struggled to fully comprehend spoken words. To Universal's great credit this Blu-ray is a far superior aural presentation to the HD DVD, though still marred by its source.
Universal has carried over all of the standard extras found on the prior HD DVD and standard DVD releases of 'Miami Vice.' It's a decent if far from spectacular assortment. (All video materials are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.)
'Miami Vice' isn't a very successful re-imagining of the classic '80s television show, despite having series creator Michael Mann in the director's chair. I suppose there's enough action to keep cop movie fans entertained, but the plot is nearly incomprehensible and Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx just don't have the same chemistry as Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. This Blu-ray release is superior to the previous HD DVD, however, with equivalent video, improved audio, and even a more complete supplement package that doesn't leave off any of the features found on the standard DVD (the HD DVD omitted a few minor vignettes). I wasn't a fan of 'Miami Vice,' but if you are, this is definitely an easy recommend.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.