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Movie Review

The pastel T-shirts Don Johnson made famous in the '80s are (thankfully) gone. But the attitude and grit that propelled Miami Vice during that decade are back with an R-rated vengeance in director Michael Mann's big-screen remake of the show he once produced.

Miami-Dade police detectives "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs prowl the city's steamy underworld as vice officers looking to put the sting on organized crime. When a botched FBI operation leaves three federal agents dead, Crockett and Tubbs are the only ones outside the agency with the requisite anonymity and skill sets to figure out what really happened.

The pair quickly discovers that the triggermen—meth-manufacturing white supremacists from the Aryan Brotherhood—are merely the bottom rung of a massive international drug cartel. In obvious big-screen/little-screen style, stopping that flow of drugs requires Crockett and Tubbs to go undercover as drug-runners themselves.

Assuming the role of middlemen adept at transporting cocaine from the Caribbean to Miami, they infiltrate the operation of Colombian crime lord Arcángel de Jésus Montoya. Then their high-stakes game of charades goes from dangerous to crazy when Crockett has an affair with the Montoya's wife, Isabella, who executes her husband's operations.

The detectives' success in their first "job" for Montoya earns his trust. But his chief henchman, José Yero, is convinced Crockett isn't what he seems. It's only a matter of time before the detectives' real identity surfaces. Bullets begin to fly. And the heat is on.

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Positive Elements

No one can argue against Crockett and Tubbs' fanatical commitment to their work of busting drug-runners; clearly they believe these controlled substances are a bad thing. They'll do just about anything to nail the dealers (though that sometimes means crossing ethical lines).

As his adulterous affair with Isabella deepens, Crockett subtly tries to convince her to leave her life of crime. He warns her that her luck will eventually run out. A philosophical conversation between the two finds Crocket insisting, "The odds catch up. Probability is like gravity—you can't negotiate with gravity." In this exchange, Crockett appeals to the idea of cause and effect, essentially saying that she'll eventually reap what she sows.

When spiraling violence lands Tubb's girlfriend, Trudy, in intensive care with a coma, he vigilantly sits by her side. Tubbs also questions his partner's choices with regard to Isabella, rightfully implying that Crockett's affair with her is unhealthy and dangerous.

Spiritual Content

A scene in the South American home of a drug lord briefly shows a shrine-like room adorned with Catholic iconography.

Sexual Content

In the film's most visually explicit scene, a naked Trudy gets in the shower with Tubbs (it's implied that they live together). We see breast nudity from the side and her bare rear. His unclothed torso is pictured as well. Another shower scene between Crockett and Isabella also includes partial nudity. Both Crockett and Tubbs make love to their respective partners in graphic scenes that clearly picture the nature and motion of what they're doing while strategically avoiding nudity. Another sex scene reveals Isabella's leg and thigh when she has sex with Crockett in a chauffeur-driven vehicle (a screen between the driver and the couple ensures their "privacy"). It's implied that Crockett and Isabella have sex on a couple other occasions. Isabella and Montoya are seen in bed together; she's seen shirtless from behind but wearing a bra.

A sting operation shows a man with two skimpily dressed prostitutes who are beginning to rub his clothed body as he massages theirs. Many women in the film wear revealing outfits, and Isabella is seen in a bathrobe.

Violent Content

The body count in Miami Vice is what you'd expect—that is to say, high. The film opens with the violent, explicit shooting of three FBI agents (one of whom apparently has part of his arm blown off). Shortly thereafter, a desperate man commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a semi on the freeway; we don't see the impact, but we do witness his body under the tires and blood all over the roadway. Two sports cars zigzag recklessly through freeway traffic at high speed. Crockett tosses grenades into two unmanned speed boats, destroying them.

A climactic shootout takes the lives of at least a dozen drug-runners and wounds one police officer; several of those deaths include men who're shot at point-blank range with shotguns—with predictably blood-splattering results. One of the goons gets shot in the foot, falls, then gets nailed twice in the head with bullets; the camera lingers on the entry wounds in his skull. Tubbs brutally caps a criminal in the head with his pistol—even though the man had already been disabled. Crockett strangles a man using a machine gun. A woman is kidnapped, beaten and eventually hurled violently from an exploding trailer. A man is shot in the throat at close range. Many characters are slapped, kicked or hit (including two women) throughout the film.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used close to 20 times (including four instances of "m-----f-----"), the s-word about 10 times, and "g--d--n" and "oh my god" once each. Roughly a dozen milder vulgarities are uttered as well, including crude reference to male anatomy and erections.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Obviously, Miami Vice revolves around drug-dealing. Though cocaine is an omnipresent part of the story line, we never actually witness anyone taking this drug. Several scenes depict men stacking sealed kilos of coke. We also see what appears to be a crude meth lab in a mobile home.

About 10 scenes include characters drinking beer or mixed drinks, usually at various dance clubs and restaurants. One shows Crockett ordering two Barcardis (for himself and a friend) at a bar. Later he tells Isabella that a mixed drink from Cuba, called a Mojito, is his favorite.

Other Negative Elements

To do their job, Crockett and Tubbs must deceive others. Such actions are perhaps defensible when it comes to dealing with the drug lords; but Crockett's ongoing deception of Isabella in the name of his work is definitely problematic. She's furious and feels deeply betrayed when she learns his true identity. (Of course she is cheating on her husband, so her outrage does ring a tad hollow.)

A white supremacist proudly sports a swastika tattoo along with other anti-Semitic art on his body. At least two scenes depict people gambling in casinos.

Conclusion

During its TV run, Miami Vice pushed the envelope, content-wise, much the same way the edgiest crime dramas on network TV do today. But by transporting this 20-year-old franchise to the big screen, Michael Mann bought the leeway he needed to include R-rated content the television series only hinted at.

As a result, Crockett and Tubbs' trademark bravado competes with a steady stream of harsh profanity, sexual imagery and intense violence. Superficial similarities with the '80s version of Miami Vice exist—Crockett still drives a fine Ferrari, for example. But this is definitely a darker, seedier, nastier version of the iconic show that once made pink shirts and pink flamingos all the rage.

Even if these serious content concerns weren't enough to dissuade old TV fans from engaging (and they certainly are), the movie's straight-faced grimness probably would get the job done anyway. The subtly campy spirit of the original is simply nowhere to be found. Instead, Mann and Co. have crafted a humorless reloading of Vice that takes itself far too seriously to risk including very many of the things that made the original show appealing (like Crockett's pet alligator, Elvis, for example).

Unlike some of Mann's other films—The Insider and The Last of the Mohicans come to mind here—the characters in this one seem to suffer from a deficit of humanity. Lots of attitude, but no heart. In the end I didn't much care about them. From my perspective, the best things Miami has to offer are the sound of Crockett's Ferrari revving up and the remake of Phil Collins' classic hit "In the Air Tonight" that rolls during the credits. Small things indeed considering how big this film's producers would like Vice to be.

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Credits

Rating

R

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Author

Cast

Colin Farrell as Det. James "Sonny" Crockett; Jamie Foxx as Det. Ricardo Tubbs; Gong Li as Isabella; Naomie Harris as Trudy Joplin; Ciarán Hinds as FBI Agent Fujima; Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo; Luis Tosar as Arcángel de Jésus Montoya; John Ortiz as José Yero

Director

Michael Mann ( BlackhatPublic EnemiesCollateralAliThe Insider)

Distributor

Universal Pictures

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Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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