Miami Vice

Miami Vice (2006)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Gong Li, Ciaran Hinds
Extras: U-Control, Commentary Track, Featurettes

Some twenty-plus years after the TV series a "Miami Vice" movie was definitely the last thing on my mind. Yet series creator Michael Mann never seems to have given up the dream and in 2006 it finally materialized. With a new cast but the familiar set of characters, "Miami Vice" was introduced to a completely new audience with a different look and feel.

Two FBI agents are brutally murdered during an undercover drug operation and it is up to Miami-Dade officers Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) to infiltrate the underground, become drug-traffickers and bring to justice those responsible. Things take a turn for the dangerous when Crockett finds himself attracted to Isabella (Gong Li) a drug lord's right hand woman, and he seems to lose sight on the goal of the mission.

It is hard to imagine "Miami Vice" without Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas and Edward James Olmos so the first obstacle the filmmakers had to overcome was establish the new cast – which turns out to be one of the film's biggest problems. While we are quickly thrown back into the Miami Vice flair by the powerboat racing in front of the Miami Beach skyline, as soon as Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx enter the scene the illusion breaks. Now, both of them are fine actors, but their portrayal of the characters we have loved and cherished for so many years is so contradicting what they stood for that it is impossible to accept them. Sonny has turned into an unshaven slob who is overly vicious and "unclean" while Foxx's frozen grim demeanor simply doesn't match the good-humored warmth and calculation that set Tubbs apart. So with the cast of characters broken the film immediately begins to limb.

Sadly the story doesn't fare much better. The "Miami Vice" TV series had same brutally intense episodes that went deep and worked not only on a suspense level but also on an emotional level. No one who saw it can forget Zito's death, for example, in a multi-episode story arch that became a landmark for the entire series. In "Miami Vice" the movie there is very little for the viewer to care about – the action is strangely distant. There is no suspense, there is no real perceived sense of danger and only the bitter-sweet ending is a real "Miami Vice" throwback. Crockett and Tubbs infiltrate a drug smuggling ring but we never get the sense that they are truly in danger or that their mission could actually fail. It is all smooth – and predictable – sailing. The romance in the film is so superficial and stretched that it becomes tedious after the first encounter while the filmmakers keep adding it on even though even the slowest viewer will have figured out by the first Mojito how this thing will ultimately turn out.

Then there is the look of the film, which is probably one of the few true highlights the movie has to offer. While not your super-bright Miami Vice of the 80s, the film has a much darker and grittier look that suits it pretty well. While the shaky-cam and constant knee-level point-of-view shots are not necessarily my bag and often distracted me, I felt that the movie represented the seedy underbelly of Miami much better than the TV series did. New production techniques have undoubtedly helped give the film the super-blacks and extremely high contrast on display here.

Which takes us to the transfer. From the opening shot of the film it is clear that "Miami Vice" is a showcase disc. The movie was shot digitally and as such there is no film source and the film existed entirely in the digital realm. As a result there is no grain or dirt to be found anywhere. The image is razor sharp and because of its strong contrast it plays that muscle throughout the movie. Edges are always extremely well defined and sharp as a result of the transfer's high definition. Combined with the powerful color reproduction on display, this transfer is absolutely breath-taking at times. While the cinematography appears a bit forced sometimes making sure there's always a bit of super-blue sky with dramatic cloud formations visible somewhere in the frame it helps giving the film a wonderful color-contrast. It is simply eye-popping to have a composition of pastel building against these dark blue skies with a set of characters in front of it and the filmmaker were exceedingly aware of that effect. The only problems I encountered had to do with low light conditions where shadows appear a bit murky and lack true definition. Since Michael Mann went for the extremely contrasty look for the film this may have been desired however as it also creates slightly blooming highlights at times.

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus the audio is also powerful and extremely active. Making constant use of the surround channels the movie's audio track is very aggressive and dynamic. Perhaps a bit too much so because it is utterly unbalanced throughout. Music is blaring a tad too loud creating huge volume jumps between dialogue and scenes of music making you jump for your volume control constantly as you're either deafened by the music or can't hear a word of what anyone is saying. Sadly the film does not offer up Jan Hammer's original music and replaces it with a more contemporary score the mileage of which may vary depending on your taste. Overall the audio could have used a brush up to make it more usable for a home theater environment.

This combo release features a dual-layer HD-30 disc as well as a DVD-9 on the flip-side. This constellation always promised to allow feature films and bonus materials on the same side of the disc. Imagine my surprise and frustration when once again I see the message that I had flip over the disc to view the featurettes on the release. This combo thing is truly becoming ridiculous and releases such as this show that HD-DVD's storage limitations are becoming a serious stepping stone for the format. There simply is nothing more aggravating than paying a $10 premium for a piggy-packed DVD version no one needs and then to see the HD-DVD version degraded to second-in-line. I think it speaks volumes that in their U-Control featurette Universal touts the benefits of HD-DVD as "#1 – contains the full DVD version" and then "#2 – contains a high defintion version of the movie" Someone needs to get their heads screwed on right over at Universal, I can tell you that.

Be that as frustrating and retarded as it may, as one of the main supplements this release contains Universal's "U-Control" feature which allows you to access various bonus materials while viewing the movie. A small icon on the side of the screen indicates when additional information is available and through the remote control allows viewers to access that information in a small window with the movie still running. As part of this you have the chance to see cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and photographs as well as technical information and more. Mind you, these materials are included so sporadic and sparsely that they turn virtually into a no-show.

You will also find a commentary track on the high definition side of the release featuring writer/director Michael Mann commenting on the unrated extended version of the film. Michael Mann is a man of visions and he is aptly able to put these visions into words as well. As a result the commentary track he delivers here is full of little details that went into the production, why he chose one thing over another and how he approached the movie from both a storytelling and technical level. It is certainly a track to check out for anyone looking for a filmschool-like commentary track that does not only delve into behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

For everything else that follows you will have to flip over the disc and boot it up all over again, including the pathetic disclaimers, warnings and the universal promo clip. Once you wasted your time through all that you will find a number of featurettes covering various aspects of the making of the movie, such as selection of locations and the training of the actors by real undercover agents. All these featurettes are your typical off-the-mill promo stuff that seems to reuse EPK interview footage et al.

While "Miami Vice" is far from being a great movie I found it intriguing enough to keep watching it. The HD-DVD version is another HD-DVD/DVD combo let-down that does not make good on the HD-30/DVD-9 promise. At least the feature film presentation is good, but the price point and technical implementation is an insult.