Monday December 18, 2006

Miami Vice the movie DVD review

boats crusiing past the port of miami

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead especially for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie at all. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch the DVD, which is a big improvement over the theatrical release, before reading.

The theatrical release of the Miami Vice movie sucked. But guess what? The DVD version is almost a completely different movie. Masterpiece? No. But the new cut (Don’t call it a “director’s cut” says Michael Mann, the original was a director’s cut too) fixes the biggest problems of the original movie — it’s tenuous connection to the city of Miami and the original series, and the weakness of the bond between Sonny and the Isabella.

Good news: the opening “port of Miami” sequence has been restored. Bad news: it doesn’t show more of the port then you’d see from the MacArththur Causeway. Nonetheless, the speadboat opening sequence begins by firmly grounding the movie in Miami, which makes a crucial difference for how the rest of the movie plays, at least for this lifelong Miami resident. Now when a scene takes place in an empty lot with a vague view of downtown at night in the background, I’m not straining to see if it’s authentic or not, and the backgrounding of the landmarks actually adds to the credibility. The original movie’s incomprehensible nightclub-scene opening was one of its major blunders.

The second key sequence that’s restored to the DVD is Sonny and Isabella’s romp in Havana. The original version included only a few seconds on the island, while the new version tells the story of the two characters taking a couple of days there together, falling in love. Since their bond drives the resolution of the movie, it makes more sense with these scenes in place, though they do slow down the action in the critical second act. Incidentally, the scenes in Havana are carefully handled: the city is presented simultaneously as an international tourist playground (for everyone but Americans) and as a once-great but now decaying place of deep and soulful beauty (the latter sense is dealt with only briefly, but it rings true).

Lots of other new shit is in the DVD version too; mostly stuff that give the movie a grand feeling balancing the gritty gunplay which overwhelmed the original version. Little exchanges between Sonny and Ricardo. A second shower sex scene mirroring the one in the original (still the best scene in the movie).

You wonder, then, how the original edit could have been so thoroughly botched. Probably the idea was to put in as many action sequences and as little dialog and exposition as possible. The problem with that is that it was impossible for a first-time viewer to fully understand what was going on, which in turn made the action sequences less meaningful. The new film does a much better job of balancing all the factors that go into making a thriller — the intrigue, the action, the romance . . . it’s hackneyed, but at least it’s done well.

It also plays more like an episode from the original TV series, in which shifts in mood were so critical. This movie feels like an episode that just had too much good stuff that couldn’t be edited down (and in fact Mann has said that he wanted to do Miami Vice as a movie before even doing the TV show). So what we get then, is a movie with the same basic set of key scenes, but where all the in-between bits seem to have been switched out and rearranged. A movie that’s actually pretty good, and more importantly, makes sense.

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