Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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'Vice' bridges the gap


Philip Michael Thomas, left, and Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Executive producer Michael Mann was responsible for the TV series landmark style, which included tropical colors, sport coats worn over T-shirts, carefully trimmed stubble, and a rocking soundtrack.


Next year - July 28, 2006, to be precise - the big-budget, big-screen adaptation of Miami Vice hits theaters with Colin Farrell sliding into those slick Don Johnson pastels and Jamie Foxx in the Philip Michael Thomas role (transplanted cop from the Bronx learns the ways of South Florida, throws a tortured glare, etc.), and there's a good chance then more than a few moviegoers will do a double take when they spot this unlikely credit:

"Directed by Michael Mann."

Yep, we're talking the same Michael Mann who chooses projects so carefully he takes years to decide; the same Mann who's synonymous with A-list movies swimming with existential dread and gun-steel men of action - the same guy who made Collateral, Ali, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, the brilliant (and melancholy) 1997 crime epic Heat, newly available as a two-disc special edition (Warner, $26.99) - and who recently produced The Aviator (if it wins the best picture Oscar on Feb. 27, Mann gets the trophy).

Watching Miami Vice: Season One (Universal, $59.98), though, is to realize, oh yeah, this is the same Mann. He was the series' executive producer; he was responsible for its landmark style, and if anyone can be blamed for the solo career of Glen Frey, who used Miami Vice as a launching pad, blame Mann. Mullets? That was Mann, too. Sport coats with T-shirts? Mann. Carefully trimmed stubble? Once again, all Mann.

One does not associate the filmmaker - on the big screen, a tough-guy stylist of the old Sidney Lumet school of hard stares and real-world concerns - with pink flamingoes, Phil Collins rocking the soundtrack, and cops who don't wear socks. Yet in one of the short documentaries on this DVD set, we learn that Mann even had a rule for the show: No earth tones, and absolutely no reds.

The idea for the series itself, which came from NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, was even hatched with a distinctly un-Mann-like pitch:

"MTV cops."

Yet for the most part, those touches, so radical in their time, now kind of cheesy, fade into the background, and what comes through is a series that feels like the missing link between old crime shows of the 1970s (which Mann cut his teeth on) and the mini-movie aesthetic that a series like The Sopranos strives for. (A few years later, Mann would hone this movie-TV hybrid to perfection with his ill-fated TV series Crime Story.)

But Miami Vice has much in common with movies like Heat and The Insider and Collateral. Superficially, there are obvious touches: Miami Vice gravitates to the same kind of highway underpasses and nondescript factory districts that Heat loves; and when Johnson drives Miami with Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" pounding on the radio - as iconic a TV moment as you get - city lights glide up over the hood, the way Los Angeles looms and envelops the nocturnal cabbie played by Foxx in Collateral.

If Martin Scorsese returned to religious iconography and thugs again and again, Mann found his life's work with Miami Vice: He cannot shake stories of men (and they're always men) who become so connected with their work they lose connection with their lives.

That's Johnson in Miami Vice, and both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, for starters, and where these guys live is ideal. Los Angeles, in a Mann picture, is a secret metropolis of long, abandoned streets where no one knows anyone and the sunlight the rest of the country admires is thick with dust.

And Miami is flat and bright and even the crime seems artificial. It's also convincing: The first time I visited, I could not believe that the buildings were actually pink.


OUR MOVIE COULD BE YOUR LIFE: What most makes a midnight movie? If I could answer that, I'd be rich - not now, but one day. Midnight movies are the perennials of the film world. A good one never goes out of fashion, no matter how they perform when first released. SAW (Lions Gate, $28.98), a low-budget Sundance film that made a quick splash last fall, is the worst kind: the midnight movie that self-consciously strives to be a midnight movie. It's a pretty dim retread of the shabby chic style of Seven - which is to say, a serial killer bore that pours all of its wit into devising clever new ways of torturing its characters.

The coolest kind of midnight movie is Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (Fox, $26.98) - fast becoming the Rocky Horror of a new generation (or at least, a next gen Pink Floyd's The Wall). Which is to say, Richard Kelly's 2001 high school head trip is impenetrable on first viewing, intriguing the second time, and by the third, you're convinced Jake Gyllenhaal's time-traveling paranoia is speaking to you. I don't know what it means either.


BLOOD, SHARK, AND TEARS: In a recent issue of the New Yorker, the critic Louis Menand astutely pointed out that "moviemaking is a business almost in spite of itself." He was referring to how the history of our cinematic milestones (Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, etc.) is almost entirely a history of movies no one wanted to make. What he might have added is that our moviegoing habits are just as much a business in spite of itself.

A year ago this time, if you told me The Notebook (New Line, $27.95) was a heartfelt hanky-wringer, and that the animated Shark Tale (DreamWorks, $29.99), which features the voice work of De Niro, Will Smith, Scorsese, and Jack Black, was an ugly, garish mess, I'd have doubted it. But I should have known better: Going to the movies is a riot of thwarted expectations and smushed preconceptions. It's why we go to movies, even after we've been so disappointed, time and again.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at:

or 419-724-6117.

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