In the world of Michael Mann, no successful justice is wholly righteous, no bad deed is without a thrill, and whether physical, historical, social or existential, everything boils down to an act of violence. Some may argue that if you’ve seen one of Mann’s often bleak, typically brooding and always beautiful meditations, you’ve seen them all — the buffet of bokeh cinematography, the ominous electronic soundscapes and, more recently, washed-out digital cinematography that seems captured on a refurbished BlackBerry someone then dropped on the ground. But no modern director feels as attuned to crime’s contradictions, the perils of punitive pursuits and the roiling emotions running through both. And few action filmmakers so invigoratingly depict the deliberate tension and swift snap of violence. To the naysayers this month, we say … C’mon, Mann.

Michael Mann has been behind some classic film and television over the years, but for me, he was at his peak in the early 2000s. Mann released the one-two punch of Collateral and Miami Vice in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Collateral is my favorite of the two, but I wanted to focus on Miami Vice because, when it was released, my love of Collateral is the main reason why I wanted to see Miami Vice. With Miami Vice, Michael Mann surprised me.

An Actual Adaptation

Miami Vice surprised me because Mann made a true adaptation of the 1980s series rather than a cash-grab exercise in nostalgia. The film took place in the current era, meaning it couldn’t be a two-hour joke about the 1980s. And no gratuitous cameos were used to needlessly distract the audience. Instead, Mann told an updated story about two undercover cops in Miami. Because of that, many think Miami Vice is a failure.

Nostalgia is always a huge driver of content in Hollywood, and films like Miami Vice get greenlit with huge budgets because a fan base already exists. But adapting a beloved show from the 1980s is tricky. By the early 2000s, Miami Vice had the reputation as the ultimate ’80s show, for better or worse. I had seen the clothing style of the show made fun of so many times that I actually thought the show was a comedy. And yes, that means I have never seen an episode of the show. In a way, that makes me the ideal audience member.

Because of my ignorance, I only brought my Mann expectations into the theater with me. Since the film ended up being the same as the show, but updated for the current day, it completely worked for me. I didn’t care that there weren’t dozens of references to the show. 

The reputation of the show, combined with other recent adaptations of old TV shows (mainly Starsky and Hutch), meant it was possible the film could be a bit of a joke. But making a film like that would betray what the show was about (or, well, what it was about based on my research since I still haven’t watched an actual episode). The show was about the 1980s drug trade only because it was made during that time period. When Miami Vice aired on NBC, it was popular and cool. People weren’t making fun of the clothes; they were copying the style from the show. It was cool.

Mann tried to recreate that sensibility by making a film of the time in 2006. The attempt to be cool is still there with the casting of Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, not to mention the fast boats and cars and multiple scenes in clubs. But it’s also very dark, literally and figuratively. Drug cartels have always been vicious, but their brutality had become much more well-known by 2006. This means the film adaptation had to be a bit more dark and hardcore. In other words, this wasn’t going to be a fun movie.

The lack of fun bothered some viewers, including one of the stars. I would argue, however, that not everything has to be fun, especially films about the drug trade. I love Miami Vice because of its seriousness. This is how the drug trade should be presented. That doesn’t mean action films about the drug trade can’t be fun; look at Bad Boys II just three years before this film. If goofy movies like that exist, then why should Miami Vice try to be like them instead of being its own thing?

Miami Vice is rightfully serious, but I agree, if you’re looking for a fun time, this is not the movie for you. It’s incredibly serious to the point that Crockett and Tubbs are almost machine-like in their pursuit of the case. They don’t come across as actual friends. Instead, they just seem to be two guys who work well together. Once again, I am fine with this. If I want to see wise-cracking cop buddies, I’ll watch the Bad Boys or Lethal Weapon series. I’m OK with watching a story about two driven cops willing to do anything to accomplish their mission. 

Despite the common complaints about the film, emotional stakes are created for both Crockett and Tubbs in the form of love interests being involved in the case. I would argue that this makes for the laziest element of the film, but these guys are presented as real people with real feelings. It’s just that instead of seeing them hanging out in each other’s backyards cooking out in their downtime, we get to see them taking showers with their lady friends. But hey, wouldn’t you be more motivated to take out some drug-running scumbags if the life of your shower buddy were at stake?

Joking aside, Miami Vice contains enough character development for me. This is a film about two undercover cops, after all, which is a job that requires someone to be driven and have as few emotional attachments as possible. What others find to be flaws, I find refreshing. I went into this movie worried that it was going to be another Starsky and Hutch; imagine my delight when I got Heat instead.

Miami Vice will never be regarded as well as Heat, but I think the film has gained a following since its initial critical and box office disappointment. Some viewers seemed to want this movie to be like other films or even more like the source material. But those other films and the original show already exist. Mann made something different while honoring the source material. He made an actual adaptation.

Random Thoughts / Favorite Quotes

Stylistically, this film feels more like a Collateral sequel than an adaptation of an ’80s TV show, which is why I like it.

And if it wasn’t clear how dark and serious this adaptation was by the 15-minute mark, the scene with undercover FBI agents getting literally shot to pieces should do the trick …

… and if that didn’t do it, then the informant stepping in front of a semi after finding out white supremacists killed his girlfriend ought to do it.

“I will cap your skanky ass and throw it off that goddamn balcony!”

Crockett staring out to the ocean during the Eddie Marsan scene is a random touch, but I like it.

It was because of this movie that I tried a mojito for the first time. I liked it. I wouldn’t drive a boat to Cuba for one or anything, but it’s a pretty good drink.

I always wonder what Tubbs was up to during Crockett’s Cuban mojito-fueled sexcapade.

Never realized how much this is like a super-serious version of Bad Boys II what with the white supremacists and two dudes seeming to take on a drug cartel singlehandedly while saving a lady-friend held captive.

Tubbs’s moment taking out the teenager and the dude behind him and going right back to aiming at the guy holding the detonator is right up there with most of Tom Cruise’s shit in Collateral.

It may be sacrilege to some, but I like Nonpoint’s version of “In the Air Tonight.” Glad to hear it in the director’s cut.

Nice of them to stick with the Jackson Pollock splatter reference when Tubbs kills Yero.

Isabella, is it really so shocking that you couldn’t trust the new drug runners your boss just hired? I get that you’ve been betrayed by Crockett, but you are involved in the international drug trade. Some people are going to lie to you from time to time, even ones who have sex with you.

Only Colin Farrell circa 2006 could get into a fight with his girlfriend during a shootout.