Saturday, December 30, 2006

Someone confiscate Michael Mann's Audioslave cd.

(Above: Wasn't "Outacted by Clouds" a Pink Floyd album title?)

Last night I watched Michael Mann's new, dour-ized adaptation of Miami Vice on dvd. I've still never seen much of the tv show, other than stray scenes like this one that I try to recreate on a nightly basis, complete w/ angst-ridden pay phone calls to family and friends (much to their consternation). Nevertheless, it's a safe bet over the course of five seasons there was at least a minimum of character development and comprehensibility, which is more than you'll get in Mann's new, typically stylized Foxx/Farrell version.

The cops in the new Vice aren't characters so much as they are constructs of fetishistic, high-tech law enforcement. I wonder if Mann ever catches himself calling his fellow man "civilians" in real life. I know that on the show Don Johnson's Sonny Crockett had a son, an ex-wife and a pet crocodile. The character Colin Farrell plays, however, seems to be more emotionally unattached than Ralph Nader before hooking up with Gong Li later in the film. There's no wife, no kid, and if he ever had a crocodile, judging by his glum demeanor he probably ate it. In fact, the only piece of backstory I could pick out was a factoid about Nu-Crockett's dad playing Allman Brothers covers or something (say, was he later a roadie for Metallica?). Jamie Foxx's Ricardo Tubbs is at least shacked up w/ a hot special lady, but she just so happens to be one of his fellow vice squad officers. Even for a Mann film, where professionalism is placed above all else in life, the cops here exist in a thoroughly insular world that seemingly allows no outsider entrance, except maybe for sexy showering purposes.

Overall the film is terrible in terms of character and story. The plot finds Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating a wacky contingent of Colombians, Russians and white supremacists that the Bush administration has nicknamed the Axis of Casting. To add to the multicultural frenzy, Gong Li's character - some kind of money manager for the group - is Chinese-Cuban and possibly proficient in zero languages. I did have a better time understanding Gong than some viewers seem to have, but Farrell's accent is odd and he delivers his lines more tersely than Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeaprody. He also looks instantly dated and ridiculous - like Fred Armisen with pro wrestler hair and facial styling - yet he's portrayed as some sort of ladykiller (possibly literally? Hey, maybe). Foxx is neither effective nor well-suited to his role either. In the end it doesn't matter what the characters are saying anyway, as much of the dialogue is either meaningless jargon (this film will clean up at the Op-Sac Awards) or absurd tough guy talk that's nearly awfulsome but mostly awful, some ("This is the hand we've been dealt on a Saturday night at 11:37 PM" - Crockett). Don't count on action sequences to break up the verbal tedium either as there are only two such set pieces, both arriving toward the end of the film.

Despite all that, there are still plenty of visual reasons to recommend Vice, as Mann ups the ante with the striking hi-def video look that also distinguished Collateral. Many shots of swaying palm trees and ominous thunderclouds are lush enough to make Terrence Mallick go out and shoot more footage of bugs to stay on his toes. Occasionally the picture quality is noticeably gritty but not unappealingly so. Beyond that there's so much vividly shot nightclubbing and boating and traipsing around islands that it even makes the generic hard rock on the soundtrack sound good. Now I'm sorry Mann never directed a Jay-Z video (hell, I'd settle for a Fatlip video). Here's a reprinted L.A. Times article about what Mann feels are the pros and cons of shooting in high definition, and why it was actually harder to shoot that way than it would have been with film.

Unfortunately mood and atmosphere aren't enough to counter the film's deficiencies, in my opinion. I'm sure many critics would be happy if Mann's films kept getting more and more aesthetically stylized and oblique so that they can write about the auteur theory and "action movies for art film lovers," but while I usually admire his films, Mann's not David Lynch. Hopefully next time he or his collaborators bring some actual characters and better story ideas to the table. Or at least a crocodile.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

I actually saw this in the theater for the simple reason I knew it was over 2 hours long, and the place was air conditened.

It was just to damm hot this past summer