Michael Mann consistently poses the toughest of questions. Such as: Do we really need a strong story line when we’ve got Al Pacino and Robert De Niro kibitzing in a diner? Or: Must Tom Cruise’s frightening gray pompadour distract us from the awesome helicopter shots of Collateral’s dazzling Los Angeles?
The typical argument against Mann goes something like this: Style hides a lack of seriousness. But the work refutes this totally. His new Miami Vice, returning to the well that made his name in the ’80s, is as voluptuous a piece of atmosphere as any produced by a Hollywood studio. (The videography by Dion Beebe, all orange and purple rain clouds at night, is a landmark of sultry mood.) The movie is also beyond solemn, even humorless, presenting the complex undercover dilemmas of Dade County detectives Crockett (Farrell) and Tubbs (Foxx) like the direst of metaphysical quandaries. They’re not. But you love the attempt, the way Mann dispenses with any pretense of trying to spoon-feed us character background, tip his hat to ’80s cheesiness or hand-hold the viewer through the movie’s chaotic first hour of nightclub sizzle, warehouse raids and explosive violence.
When Miami Vice finally settles into a plot, involving Gong Li as a ultrapowerful drug empress (and shower partner for Crockett), you won’t care. Already we’ve seen her climb out of a private plane in a miniskirt; watched her and Farrell speed off in a million-dollar powerboat for mojitos in Havana; heard them coo preposterously dry love patter that sounds wonderfully close to Mamet. Finally, a summer movie that’s sincere in its escapism. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf
Cast and crew
Barry Shabaka Henley