Not Don Johnson's 'Miami Vice'

miami vice, colin farrell, jamie foxx
poster image from new 'miami vice' universal pictures 2006
Universal Pictures

CBS News Sunday Morning contributor David Edelstein finds Michael Mann's update of "Miami Vice" lacking in pastel shirts, but packing plenty of grit and passion.

This is the showbiz equivalent of an Old Testament story: At the dawn of MTV, NBC network executive Brandon Tartikoff didst hand Michael Mann a note reading, "MTV cops" — and Mann didst go forth and make Miami Vice. And it was way cool.

At the time Mann had a pretentious but striking movie under his belt called "Thief," which introduced a hero and an attitude that runs through his all movies, including the big, new Miami Vice remake.

The Mann hero might be either a cop or a robber, but he's a virtuoso, with a superhuman focus that separates him from the rest of the world. In Mann's mesmerizing "Manhunter" — the better adaptation of Thomas Harris' book, "Red Dragon" — William Petersen wanders crime scenes alone, as if possessed by the serial killer he hunts. And in "Heat," Al Pacino as a cop and Robert DeNiro as a master thief are two sides of the same spinning coin, both ready to ditch their worldly ties.

I think the idea that cops and robbers are the same, existentially speaking, is a little fancy. And the Mann style can be, um, mannered. There's all that blue lighting and mood rock. And the way Mann frames his heroes to bring out both their alienation and glamour makes you think, "That's God's loneliest man — and where can I buy that jacket?"

The look of the "Miami Vice" movie is rougher than the show's. As detectives Crockett and Tubbs, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are muscled up and not exactly given to pastels. The camerawork is swervy and jittery, with video grain.

But the vibe remains the same: hard action, harder lovemaking, fast boats and macho men who scan one another's faces for signs of duplicity or weakness. The undercover mission is threatened when Crockett falls for Isabella, the mistress of the movie's big-cheese drug mogul played by Chinese art-movie heartthrob, Gong Li. He sees a glimmer of vulnerability under her leggy ice-queen exterior: He knows down deep she's as soft as he is.

There's more sex-play than love-play, but the violence is fast and scary and disorienting, the visuals otherworldly, the perspectives endlessly strange. Of course, disorientation has its down side: As a thriller, "Miami Vice" is only semi-coherent. But who needs another ordinary buddy-cop flick? This movie is entrancing. Even when you're bewildered, you'll be thinking, "Man, oh Michael Mann!"