No one, but no one does crime like Michael Mann.
His films are creatures of the night, in love with the way glowing urban sprawl looks from a God's eye view. From above, a city looks like a sea of twinkling star light; down below, on the streets, all is dark, gritty, and deadly. The monsters that roam these streets are ruthless and the side of good needs ruthless men to battle them.
Mann proved his brilliance in Heat (actually, he proved it in the gorgeous and sublime Last of the Mohicans, which is not, of course, a crime drama and will henceforth be ignored), one of the few films I dub perfect in every way; I would not change a thing (other than that rear-view mirror falling off the windshield multiple times for you fellow eagle-eyed viewers). In Collateral, Mann once again showed his masterful adeptness at crafting characters and situations that are fleshed out in such a way that they more than equal his colossal wide angles and bright, crisp HD palettes.
That this auteur is the same man that produced the tongue-in-cheek humor and neon clothing-clad 80's classic, Miami Vice is still something of an enigma to me. Obviously, to him as well. Because, while it was dear enough to his heart to reimagine on the big screen, the dark pastiche of menacing thugs and grimy drug deals in the film version bears little resemblance to its small-screen forerunner.
Miami Vice is still filled with too-cool sexy toys--Ferrari's that spit flame, million-dollar apartments, speedboats, airplanes, Havana night clubs--but unlike the TV series that never forgot to wink to the audience, Miami Vice: the movie takes itself very seriously. The result is a hyper-cool world where we don't believe for a moment that these things are possible--but they sure are fun to look at.
Unfortunately, that sort of sums up the entire film. This is minor Mann and does not resonate like his earlier work. This latest incarnation is lavishly shot and executed, and has a fluid, titillating style. But unlike his other films, the story, while engaging, is underdeveloped. Furthermore, the lead characters brood the entire time, never letting their sulking personas drop long enough to allow us to read any sort of character development. As a result, we care little for what happens to them. It is a testament to Mann's writing and directing, however, that we remain seated for the duration of the ride regardless of its shortcomings, straining at the bit to see how various situations resolve themselves in Mann's typical bursts of hyper-violence. Engrossing and impressive, Miami Vice is only intermittently enjoyable. But when it works, man, it works!