Imagine if Michael Mann had directed Scarface... His new spin on Miami Vice isn’t quite that sinister, bloody or sweary, but it’s no pastelly pastiche of his ’80s TV show either. Rather, his reimagining comes stacked with flashy lightning, rumbling thunder and edgy foreboding; an altogether darker take on coke-chasing cops Crockett and Tubbs, as they hurl themselves into the deadly world of drug-running, where only shades of grey lurk between the law and the lawless. Much of the immediacy is down to Vice’s visual grit. Sunnier and brighter it may be, but stylistically, Mann has simply relocated Collateral’s noirish trawl through twilight LA to Haiti, Columbia, Havana and, naturally, Miami.
Yet for all the updating and re-styling, Vice 2006 still feels very much at peace with the show that helped launch Mann’s career and persuaded millions to kit out in espadrilles, T-shirts and peppermint-coloured jackets. Farrell and Foxx may be new faces, but they’re still the much-loved characters of old, chasing down and confronting the underworld goliaths of West Coast wealth and power. Mann has, shrewdly, taken the format of the show – where imagery and visuals often won out over plot and character – and tweaked it, edging the balance back towards a middle ground. But he’s also streamlined the plotting, boiling dialogue down to the basics and refusing to top-load the movie with exposition. What we’re given instead is a crash-course introduction into our heroes’ world... And it’s a world we feel we’re right in the middle of, rather than swooping around, courtesy of a comfortingly distant helicam.
There’s a classy but urgent verve to the scenes with Farrell and Foxx hanging with their team or butting heads with an FBI handler (Ciaran Hinds). Foxx is the cooler, more focused partner, while Farrell plays Crockett like a coiled spring; a man professionally dedicated, but ever willing to blur the legal/lethal boundaries. Still, while Foxx keeps it simple, Farrell overplays the alpha-male swagger (bizarre twitches, silly gruff accent). Shame he couldn’t have kept his overall performance as relaxed as his scenes with Gong Li’s cocaine dame – the slinky yet vulnerable flame that draws out the moth in Crockett.
For a show that once featured Phil Collins as a game show host, the new Vice is an altogether more mature and muscular spectacle. Yet, while Mann resists the urge to layer on any ’80s camp, the drama often feels limp and lite; as if it’s only really there to justify the typically Mannish obsession with blue, blue water and nocturnal cityscapes.
Not quite Mann on fire, then. But still a smouldering blend of flash and brash.