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Friday, Sept. 1, 2006
Warning: There's men at work
By KAORI SHOJI
"Miami Vice" the movie has very little in common with the 1980s TV series -- in fact, the title should probably be: "Miami Vice -- Coulda Had You Fooled." The only similarities are the names of the two main characters, their professions and the director, Michael Mann. The movie is like a building that's been torn down and reconstructed from scratch, with Mann acting as owner, architect and contractor, insisting that everything be updated, replaced, snazzed-up and only the plaque left intact.
Fittingly, the texture of this new "Vice" is an intriguing blend of concrete, smoke-glass and chrome-metal: the stuff of 21st century architecture.
Judging from his recent track record, Mann is fascinated by men at work -- in "Collateral," excessively dedicated contract killer Tom Cruise stalks his victim in a subway, hollering "I do this for a living!" as if that statement excused and explained everything.
In "Miami Vice," detectives Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are deeply addicted to their jobs as any coked fiend -- the pair have no inner-lives, no private selves, no contradictory personalities. They are what they do and that's all there is to them.
In the opening segments Crockett and Tubbs are casing a night club for a sex trafficker; as Crockett confirms over his mobile to headquarters, it's nearly midnight on a Saturday and they're still on the job after what appears to be a triple graveyard shift. Crockett also makes a fleeting attempt at romance with an exotic-looking bartender, but the exchange is just that -- fleeting. Minutes later their assignment is interrupted and then switched to something else: Going undercover to ferret out a traitor in the FBI. Because of this rat, two agents were killed and the wife of an informant (played by a desperate, teeth-chattering John Hawkes) was murdered in her home. Upon hearing this piece of news the informant throws himself under a truck on the freeway. This particular segment is executed with typical Mann finesse: all we see are the oncoming glare of headlights and a wide ribbon of blood on the asphalt, imprinted between the tire marks.
Crockett and Tubbs are regretful over all this, but it's not an incident that interferes with the job. Nothing interferes with the job. Within a few screen minutes they're entrenched in their new assignments, discussing strategy and poring over PCs. In between, Tubbs has a brief get-together with his girlfriend/colleague Trudy (Naomie Harris), who is just as driven/dedicated as he is and can make a seamless transition from bed to work meeting, still wearing her bathrobe.
Heck, even the bad guys have great work ethics. There's Miami drug lord Jose Yero (John Ortiz), who meticulously double checks everything and everyone before proceeding to the next step on the negotiating ladder, and his kingpin boss, Montoya (Luis Tosar), who seemingly has only two modes of existence: in his limo or in front of his laptop. Both sport a hardened weariness that speak of people who haven't taken a vacation in a long, long time. Montoya's lover/business partner is Isabella (Gong Li), a Cuban Chinese with an ice-queen demeanor who wears suits so severely and precisely they can draw blood.
To infiltrate their tight little organization, Crockett and Tubbs pose as drug transporters ("we deliver, anything anytime, faster than Fed-Ex") and in the process Crockett falls for Isabella and by way of a pickup line asks whether Montoya is really her husband. "I don't need a husband," she answers coolly. "I'm a businesswoman." Crockett instantly recognizes a fellow workaholic -- they click and embark on a red-hot, if brief, love affair -- I mean, they don't have much time anyway.
The brilliance of "Miami Vice" is in its here-and-now feel; Crockett and Tubbs of the 1980s had plenty of time to schmooze in bars, exchange witty dialogue and such -- the duo in 2006 hardly have time to sit down, let alone have a conversation that's not pared down to the barest, most cryptic essentials.
Their days are one continuous flow of on-the-job incidents, which Mann films as an extremely stylish documentary: nothing is fancified or fussed over, not even when the scene calls for it. When Trudy is injured in action, Tubbs (who's on the spot) barely blinks as he goes about finishing off the job before scooping her up and driving to the hospital. It's an impressively choreographed sequence, one that says everything about Tubbs, about his relationship with Trudi and of Mann's intentions.
Ten years ago, "work" was on the verge of becoming a dirty word, an anachronism on a par with say, Wall Street power lunches. But now it's a concept as important as love, as vital to the body as bottled mineral water and a hard-core fact of 21st century life. Mann shows just how far work has evolved, how deeply embedded it's become in popular culture. The boundaries between work and other stuff are almost obsolete -- in fact, it's probably the new vice, certainly more glamorous than sex.