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By Pete Vonder Haar | July 29, 2006

Few people can deny that “Miami Vice” was a pretty innovative TV show for its time. Folks loved its slick look, its MTV-style rapid cut editing, and the novel use of current popular music in the soundtrack. White linen jackets started showing up in closets as far away as Butte, Montana, owned by guys who proudly cultivated their five o’clock shadow, the better to emulate scruffy undercover cop Sonny Crockett (his partner Rico Tubbs never received as much love). Thanks to writer/producer Michael Mann’s stylistic approach and some nifty cinematography, every episode almost had the feel of a movie. The show only lasted five seasons, but has gone on to influence television and movies up to the present day, and if we have it to blame for crap like “CSI: Miami,” well, it’s a small price to pay for a place in pop culture history.

But for all its inventiveness, “Miami Vice” still had to operate within the confines of a major television network. The good guys may not always have won, and stories weren’t always neatly wrapped up after an hour, but you were still left with a fairly sanitized version of The Job. After the series ended, Mann went on to lend his distinct visual technique to films like “Manhunter” and “Heat,” he earned an Oscar nomination for directing “The Insider,” and his most recent film, “Collateral,” also snagged decent reviews, all of which might lead one to assume Mann wouldn’t need to revisit his seminal TV show, especially one as rooted in its particular era as “Miami Vice.”

Yeah, well, welcome to reality, where it probably only took a dump truck of money to get Mann to helm “Miami Vice: The Motion Picture.” This updated version, starring Colin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, is far from a disaster, but doesn’t rank with Mann’s best work.

As in the TV show, Crockett and Tubbs are undercover Miami-Dade vice cops. At the outset, they’re approached by the head of an inter-agency task force whose undercover drug op has been messily blown. They arrange a meet with the gang’s point man (John Ortiz), and end up discovering an organization involved in far more than narcotics trafficking. Crockett also has his hands full (literally) with the big boss’ lady (played by Gong Li), which makes Tubbs question his commitment to the mission.

Let’s start with the bad. For starters, Mann’s signature visual aesthetic is starting to run the risk of overwhelming the story at hand. He isn’t at Tony Scott levels of annoyance, yet, but an abundance of handheld shots and slo-mo get old quick. And Farrell and Foxx have next to no onscreen chemistry. Hell, Jim Belushi and Arnold Schwarzenegger were more believable partners. The new Crockett and Tubbs share none of the camaraderie of the old, and seem like they’d rather be anywhere but working together. Mann could also have easily trimmed 15 minutes or so of the Farrell-Li storyline.

Finally, if you’re going to bring back “In the Air Tonight,” even if it’s covered by some crap rap/metal band, couldn’t you at least have it play during a scene similar to the one in the TV pilot? It was one of the most iconic moments of the original series, and yet here the song is perfunctorily played over the end credits. Maybe the two leads couldn’t stand to be in the same car together anymore.

Even so, few directors do cops and robbers as well as Mann, and the violence is gratifyingly realistic. The movie centers on Crockett, and Farrell manages quite well. It may not be enough to make audiences forget “Alexander,” but it’s a start.

In the end, “Miami Vice” is a perfectly competent cop movie, albeit a bit more convoluted than the norm. The nagging problem is that, minus the “Miami Vice” name, there’s really nothing to tie this to the original. And when we can get gritty, visceral police dramas like “The Shield” and “The Wire” on TV these days, Mann really needed to show us something we haven’t seen before to make “Miami Vice” memorable. He doesn’t, and what we’re left with is an occasionally engaging police drama, and little more.

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