Dozens of directors would give their right arms to shoot films like Michael Mann has shot his new "Miami Vice," with its stunning digital-video footage of everything from tropical lightning to raging gun battles; but every screenwriter in the business would point out that before you shoot, you need a script, and characters, and a plot to set them in. Because what we have here is a two-hour-and-thirteen-minute version of a one-hour television show. And remember that one-hour shows actually have just 44 minutes of live action.
Mann has also saddled his film with Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett, a most unfortunate casting choice, since even in the most exciting or sexy moments Mr. Farrell has about as much life to him as last night's fish. To make it worse, Mann has neglected to give Jamie Foxx, as Sonny's partner Ricardo Tubbs, even one complete sentence to say in the whole film.
The plot, if we may call it that, has Crockett and Tubbs, undercover Miami PD agents, on the trail of Latin drug smugglers who are shipping the goods through their fair city. They infiltrate the gang by posing as buyers, which takes them to one sub-kingpin in, apparently, Haiti; and to Mr. Big himself, near Iguaçu Falls in Paraguay. In one or the other, he meets the boss's lady Isabella, played by the great Gong Li, who almost singlehandedly rescues the film from utter boredom, since alone among the cast she does not need lines or motivation to capture us and twirl us around her little finger. When she is onscreen you could pay us a million dollars and we would not look at anyone else, and certainly not Mr. Farrell.
The dialogue, such as it is, is full of half-voiced and half-completed sentences that those on screen apparently understand, though we in the audience are not so fortunate. But so little actually happens that it doesn't really matter; we see boats being loaded and unloaded, no doubt with drugs; we see satellite phones in constant use, we see a cruel double-cross by the bad guys - what did we expect? - and, at the end, a blazing shootout.
The film has constant references to 'fast boats,' presumably what used to be called cigarette boats, but the only time we climb aboard is when Farrell and Li head out from, I think, Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Havana for a drink one evening. Yes, they stay over, but is that actually possible given the laws of physics and the distances involved? Please correct me if I got it wrong.
What's obvious about "Miami Vice" is that Mann, as writer and director, is much more interested in his shots, his colors, and his editing than he is in his people or his story. No gorgeous scene is left unfilmed, no nightclub is left unvisited, no ocean vista left unnoticed, no small plane climbing through the clouds left unshot, no silhouette against the sky left to linger without being seen. Music pumps and throbs throughout, to an almost pornographic level, but stubbornly the film remains uninvolving and uninteresting.