Miami Vice (2006)
I've never seen an episode of the original TV Series on which this film is based, but apparently it's quite far removed from its source material despite being directed by Michael Mann, who was one of the series' original producers.
'Miami Vice' is about a team of undercover police officers, headed by Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx), who infiltrate a drug dealer's (Luis Tosar) organization. Trudy (Naomie Harris) is one of the team and is also Tubbs' girlfriend. Isabella (Gong Li) is the drug dealer's business associate / lover who winds up falling for Crockett. The story basically revolves around how Crockett and Tubbs work their way into the organization and gather intelligence, while also dealing with their personal relationships.
The main thing about this film is its style. It's not a conventional police thriller; it's shot in a pseudo documentary manner and attempts to be ultra realistic. The style is pretty cool and unique for the genre, and most of the time it succeeds in giving off a realistic vibe. The procedural aspects have an air of authenticity, and the grittiness and unflinching depictions of the dangers involved in this sort of work make for some very tense scenes. The problem is that often that adherence to realism seems to occur at the expense of being engaging. The actual storyline is not particularly original or interesting, and given the running time not that much actually happens. And while stylistically realistic some of the events still feel like cliche, resulting in a realistic looking vision of typical Hollywood thrillers as opposed to something that actually reflects reality.
There's also a dourness permeating the film that makes it very hard to like. Apart from the procedural aspects of their work, the feeling of team cohesion amongst the cops is non existent. There's no camaraderie, and the duo of Crockett and Tubbs don't have much of a rapport, with only a few subtle moments in the film even hinting at friendship. The romance between Crockett and Isabella suffers from the same problem - it feels cold and hollow, yet we're meant to believe that they are deeply in love. Ironically, the relationship between Tubbs and Trudy is far more believable but is relegated to playing second fiddle. The performances are all solid but no one really stands out.
Criticisms aside, there are things to appreciate in 'Miami Vice', some of which I've already mentioned. The plot isn't spoon-fed to the audience and it requires a bit of concentration to keep up with all of the details, which results in minimal use of grating exposition and enhanced realism. Thematically the film examines the nature of undercover work and the toll it takes on the people who have to infiltrate criminal organizations while still trying to hold on to their humanity, and I think it does it reasonably well. The action sequences, being steeped in a documentary style, are very tense and exciting affairs. The film is also visually impressive, though Mann's use of HD digital cameras gives the film that annoying cheap look that I find quite distracting.
Ultimately, use of a realistic aesthetic doesn't mean story and character need to be compromised - Mann's own Collateral is a fine example of this - and this is where 'Miami Vice' fails. It's an interesting and original take on the genre, but I think it would have been better if it had been more committed to fully embracing realism in the story OR toned down on the overly serious procedure-heavy aspects and breathed more life into its characters. As it stands it is only partially committed to both, making for a fairly good film that I don't like at all and have no desire to revisit.