Sleeves rolled down

 

Reviewed - Miami Vice: The supercops are back in Michael Mann's seductive, violent reworking of his famous TV series, writes Michael Dwyer

Miami remains awash with vice, and detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are as determined as ever to uphold the law. Beyond those essential elements, Michael Mann retains little from the 1984-89 TV series of Miami Vice, which he produced, in his new movie bearing the same name.

Gone are the silk jackets with rolled-up sleeves, the pink flamingos of the opening credits, the set-pieces edited in the style of videos for the rock songs on the soundtrack, and Jan Hammer's pulsating theme music. As far as one can tell, the new Crockett and Tubbs, played by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, even wear socks.

Much of Miami Vice isn't even set in Miami, as the storyline takes Crockett and Tubbs down south to Cuba, Colombia, Paraguay and Haiti. And while Florida may maintain its status as the Sunshine State, Mann's movie takes place in the predominantly nocturnal world of his earlier Collateral, allowing few excursions into daylight.

The tone of his film is deadly serious, in marked contrast to the nudging, campy movie parodies of popular old TV series such as Starsky & Hutch (on which Mann worked as a writer in the 1970s), The Dukes of Hazzard, Bewitched and Charlie's Angels.

Mann has always been at least as interested in style as he is in substance, and there's no doubt where his preference lies in Miami Vice, which opens seductively in a simmering, fluidly sustained sequence set in a bustling nightclub, building to the revelation that a police sting has misfired badly because of a leak.

An FBI agent (Ciaran Hinds) assigns Crockett and Tubbs to go deep undercover, posing as drug dealers and gaining the trust of the ruthless, wholly amoral Montaya (Luis Tosar), who runs a globalised criminal empire with a menacing henchman (John Ortiz). Montaya's lover, Isabella (Gong Li), is a Chinese-Cuban financial expert who does the laundry - the money laundering.

Whereas Tubbs is in a passionate relationship with a colleague (Naomie Harris), Crockett is single and his flirtatious nature is established from the outset. He is drawn irresistibly to Isabella, as she is to him, when they take off to Havana for mojitos, even though both of them are smart enough to know the risks of mixing pleasure with their kind of business, and Crockett has the added burden of concealing his true line of business.

Breaking away from the violent worlds they inhabit - and from the coldness often found at the core of Mann's work - the movie turns unexpectedly tender and sensual in the chemistry that sparks between Gong, radiant and adventurously cast, and Farrell, leonine-haired and thoroughly assured.

This is one of those rare thrillers that sets up women as protagonists and then refuses to reduce them to dangerously stupid behaviour when the crunch comes. In fact, one of the minor characters, a detective played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, gets to deliver some of the movie's sharpest dialogue, a modern spin on one of Clint Eastwood's most famous utterances as Dirty Harry.

Mann's flair for directing action has been evident in movies as diverse and thrilling as Heat and The Last of the Mohicans, and he revels in orchestrating confrontations between good and evil, unleashing the firepower with a merciless ferocity that Sam Peckinpah would admire.

These visceral sequences grow organically from Mann's teasingly convoluted but entirely accessible and astutely resolved screenplay. Not all of the dialogue is as intelligible as it ought to be, but this doesn't detract significantly from a film driven by its visual style. Mann renews his collaboration with Dion Beebe, the Australian cinematographer of Collateral, shooting on digital again to produce a richly textured and seductively atmospheric mood-piece.