Arts + Culture » Film + TV

Miami Vice

Mark Palermo has a vice or two of his own.

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Michael Mann’s stylish film version of his trend-setting ’80s TV drama Miami Vice is a weird take on a cop thriller. Mann’s non-conformist approach to tough guy mystique is more defiant than inspired—interesting for what it isn’t, rather than what it is.

By resisting cliche, Mann makes exactly the movie that his detractors frequently accuse him of making. Mann has a penchant for building montages from love scenes and travel scenery (both the cast and locations exude a good-looking aura). Their stoicism separates them from typical music video aesthetics, but these bits (set to Mann favourites like Moby and Audioslave) reveal only the movie’s surface attitude. His style fails by rarely articulating the underlying tension.

There’s a thin line Miami Vice walks between bold ambition and contempt for genre. It starts with a sharp idea. Imagining the TV series had kept running (in truth, most audiences don’t remember much about it), but that police co-partners Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs (now played by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx) haven’t aged, viewers are dropped, without backstory, into a new episode.

Since there are no formal character introductions, learning who these people are comes from observing them behave over the course of their new case. Foxx handles Mann’s necessarily low-key line delivery better than Farrell does and there are times when the lack of explanation makes things incredulous: Sonny’s fling with a drug dealer played by Gong Li plays as an inexperienced teenager’s romantic fantasy. It’s hard to buy, but then, Mann rarely cares to explain himself.

He serves Miami Vice as just a slice of these peoples’ time. Even its act structure is hard to pinpoint. Were its strengths more impressive, this could work beautifully. Without the balletic brutality Mann gave the violence in The Last of the Mohicans and Heat, his gunfights are only serviceable.

Miami Vice looks too good to be boring, but even its moments of anguish are light as air. The effect is of a movie designed more to be hung out at than actively watched.

John Tucker Must Die

The high school in John Tucker Must Die looks like a shopping mall. Appropriately, the students resemble fashion models, and behave like they were written by someone whose whole insight into teenagers came from watching Zellers’ Back to School Sale ads.

The most popular guy in school is John Tucker (Desperate Housewife-fucker Jesse Metcalfe). His three girlfriends (Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel) each discover that there are two others and band together for revenge. They enlist the help of Kate (Brittany Snow), who is about two percent lower on the Cover Girl scale than they are, and therefore the biggest loser in school. This also means she’s really smart.

Director Betty Thomas misses the inspired zaniness of her The Brady Bunch Movie, delivering an out-of-touch, insincere teen product. Kate’s eventual attraction to John is an inevitable story device, but Thomas doesn’t give it the feeling to resonate. The movie falls for the teenage perception that everybody in high school who isn’t a close friend leads a simple life. As a result, nobody in the film is given the depth to connect with young viewers. John Tucker Must Die runs through plot points so superficially they’re all resolved in a food fight.

Resolve your plot points. write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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