People like to rag on Michael Bay a lot, but most forget he has a few gems amongst the over bloated messes in his filmography. Quite frankly, I believe his first movie was his best, and that is indeed Bad Boys. Burdened with a really bad script written for a Dana Carvey / Jon Lovitz comedy vehicle, Bay relied heavily on the comedic smarts and chemistry of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith to salvage it with extensive improvisation. What he got was an exceptionally well made, tightly paced, and sharply stylized charismatic action hit.
One hundred million dollars worth of confiscated heroin has just been jacked from police custody. Once the career bust of Detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), the missing drugs now threaten to shut down the narcotics division of the Miami Police Department. The thieves turn deadly when they murder one of their own, a once crooked cop, and Maxine, a beautiful call girl who was a close friend of Mike’s. Now, the only witness to this double murder and the link to recovering the dope is Maxine’s friend Julie (Téa Leoni), who must come under the protective custody of Lowery and Burnett before these criminals eliminate her permanently.
What really grabs me about Bad Boys is how sharp and funny Lawrence and Smith are. These two have excellent chemistry that would be hard to constrain, but I think Bay had himself in sync with these two. He directed their banter down the right line which wholly fits their characters, and never allows it to go on a wild tangent. I like the quick scenes early on that just have them trading comedic blows, but it serves a purpose to build the characters and establish their relationship. The opening scene is a big favorite of mine. This is Michael Bay focused and driven to deliver something impressive. He had something to prove in his directorial debut, and the script he had was so horrible even he called it a “piece of shit.” I only wish he still had those standards today. So, it was a lot of pressure making Bad Boys, but he surrounded himself in extremely talented individuals like Smith and Lawrence along with two blockbuster producers to make this a success.
This has all the hallmarks of a Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer production. It’s slick, stylish, fresh, and exciting. I miss the time where producers like them or even Joel Silver alone influenced the quality and style of the movies. They were as big of a mark of quality as the right director. Bay’s style is also evident here with a lot of dynamic camera angles, beautiful dramatic lighting, and some gorgeous sweeping camera movements. Bay creates a very visually stunning work that energizes the movie, raising it up to a very high quality cinematic level. It absolutely has that 1990’s music video visual scope and beauty which was essentially originated and refined by Bay. There’s some elegant and artistic production designs throughout that just give it an extra flare of style that does feel very Miami. The film also has very tight editing keeping the story moving forward at a great clip. Unlike many later Michael Bay films, it doesn’t languish on indulgences in comedy and frivolousness. Yes, there are almost straight comedy bits in there, but they just add to the fun of the movie.
The dramatic aspects of the film are handled as amazingly as the comedy. There are several moments in the film where the impact of Maxine’s death reverberates and resonates. Bay gives it epic weight to propel the motivations forward for Julie and Mike. In many of Bay’s later films, those qualities are often drowned out by too much bad comedy or just poor characterizations. Here, he shows he knew how to do it right.
I know there are many who find Martin Lawrence irritating, to say the least. I can see that, but I just feel he does his best in this movie, especially when he has someone like Will Smith to work off of. Marcus Burnett is a guy with a lot of stresses on him from not getting his “quality time” at home, and the constant danger everyone keeps getting him into. The biggest being having to impersonate Mike for the sake of securing Julie, who trusts Lowery solely, and being forced to lie to his own wife about the arrangement. So, the wiseass quips and abrasive attitude are dead-on-the-mark. It also creates the classic buddy cop dynamic of conflicting personalities. Mike is smooth and competent while Marcus is more excitable and apprehensive.
Of course, Will Smith is charming and charismatic, but injects a lot of toughness and conviction into Mike Lowery. He’s not just a smooth player. He’s a dedicated, determined, wicked good cop that works situations with savvy and sharp aggression. Mike might be a rich kid with a comfortable lifestyle, but as he says he “pushes it to the max every day.” It’s a great dynamic between Burnett and Lowery, and this performance showed Will Smith to be a vastly marketable leading man and action capable actor. Proving that statement is the fact that his very next film was Independence Day.
Téa Leoni is really great. The panicked, emotionally unsettled part of her performance has a lot of weight and depth. Yet, she makes the transition to the lighter tone smoothly with really good chemistry with Lawrence. She becomes even more enjoyable when Julie figures out that Marcus is really Marcus, and not Mike. She plays around with him, and that just adds a little more intelligence to her. Most of all, Leoni creates a very sympathetic and likeable character.
While Joe Pantoliano portrays almost the stereotypical angry police Captain, he’s great at it. As always, he’s smart and funny. Captain Howard barks orders with the best of them, but you understand the stress he’s under. The biggest bust his department’s ever achieved is lost, and all of their jobs are on the line under a very tight timetable. He has to motivate his detectives to work fast and smart before all their time and luck has run out. So, Pantoliano has that relatable quality where his yelling never overshadows the consummate cop underneath.
Tchéky Karyo gives us a fairly good villain. If there’s any weak area of the film it’s not his performance, but Fouchet is not well developed. It’s rather generic, but Karyo elevates it to a higher level through his very good presence and subtle touches he puts into it. He can evoke a calm tension when he speaks softly, but can really punctuate greatly when the aggression is unleashed. If Fouchet was a stronger villain on the page, I think the film would feel like it has a beefier pay-off.
I absolutely adore Mark Mancina’s score. The main theme is beautiful and perfect with its slight Latin flavor, hip hop rhythm, rock electric guitar, and epic scale strings. It’s an inspired meshing of musical styles that feel just perfect. His overall work on this movie was big, heart pounding, and dramatic flowing perfectly with Michael Bay’s directorial style. The entire soundtrack just hits the right 90’s intensity and style all the way through.
If there’s one thing that I’ve never seen disputed about Michael Bay is that he knows how to do action sequences amazingly well. He really is a master of epic action using score and weighty slow motion shots to intensify every dangerous scenario. The entire climax is excellently done with plenty of explosive moments and greatly satisfying action. The final car chase is insanely intense with its great use of tight close-ups, tense, pounding music, and extremely tight editing. The violent, dramatic quality of it all is just masterful. This really does follow in the tradition of Tony Scott, but pushed to the next level. That is probably much due to the Simpson / Bruckheimer backing.
While the story is rather simple and straight forward, it is populated with a lot of fun. Bay keeps the mix of dramatic momentum and comedic wit appropriately balanced. The comedy might be in abundance here, but it never dilutes or dwarfs the dramatic urgency of the storyline. Both the comedy and action stick strongly in your mind after the film’s over. It all just blends together smoothly and smartly for a wildly entertaining and fun ride.
Bad Boys really set the tone for late 90’s action. Very polished and stylized cinematography, largely dramatic slow motion action, and just an epic feel all around. It launched the careers of Bay and Smith into the stratosphere as two the biggest blockbuster names around, and for good reason. While Bad Boys isn’t as big of an action movie as either of them or Simpson / Bruckheimer were involved with, it’s greatly fun, exciting, and spectacularly made. Sharp, smart, and beautifully shot, this vibrantly showed that there was talent here to harness. These days, I think Michael Bay could use some restraints and more focused vision like he had here. Even Bad Boys II came off a bit over bloated and self-indulgent by taking what was great in this first movie and amplifying it beyond what it needed to be. Still, if a third movie ever does eventually get made, I’m sure I’ll be game to give it a fair chance as you should definitely do for this movie, if you haven’t already.
This film was not what I had hoped it to be. At the time of release, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. However, over time, I have gained some appreciation for it, at least, for what it had the potential to be. I had not watched the television series during the 1980s. I grew up on cartoons, sitcoms, the WWF, and Knight Rider. However, I blind bought the first season of Miami Vice on DVD in 2005, and was immediately hooked. It seemed like good timing with news of the feature film hitting at that time, and the trailer coming a few months later.
What I love about the television show was its way of using popular music as a dramatic storytelling device, and the strong chemistry amongst the cast. The five seasons of Miami Vice redefined what could be achieved on television. Its use of cinematic visuals, gritty crime themes, and action packed, violent stories changed the medium forever. It was slick, colorful, exciting, dramatic, and compelling. Unfortunately, this 2006 feature film lacks all of that.
In this new Miami Vice, roles of James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are portrayed by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, replacing Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas from the original series. Crockett & Tubbs get pulled away from a local undercover operation to deal with the deterioration of a interagency task force. As Tubbs says, “Your ‘op sec’ (operational security) is blown.” How it links to them is by way of an old informant who got in over his head, and now, pays a dire price. So, to bring down this Colombian crime kingpin, Jesus Montoya, Crockett & Tubbs go deep undercover where they have no back-up, and Crockett gets in close with Isabella (Gong Li), Montoya’s woman.
The real problem of this film is that it lacks chemistry and momentum. The plot moves along very straight forward allowing for no unexpected twists or turns to create exciting plot developments. The first 15-20 minutes of the film (theatrical cut) are wrought with potential for a very exciting, fast-paced feature. Things develop quickly creating urgency for everyone to act quickly, and for a dangerous premise to be setup with agents being gunned down. Action ensues, things blow up while maintaining a hard edged, realistic Michael Mann style. However, it soon slows to a dull pace. The plot moves from one thing to another just establishing elements and relationships and characters, but none of it really means anything. Nothing develops beyond the surface. It’s procedural to a fault. It’s more like watching a documentary of undercover vice cops than an engaging narrative with relatable characters.
In the television series, the clashing personalities of the slick, smooth New Yorker of Ricardo Tubbs and the weathered, cynical Miami Vice cop of Sonny Crockett created a classic chemistry. They didn’t always mesh well, but the chemistry Johnson & Thomas struck was what made the show work. They connected on an emotional level. You saw how these two went from reluctant partners to trusted brothers in arms. You felt it between them, and they played it well. Here, the script keeps the characters in an ‘all business’ mode for so long that you don’t get a moment where it’s just Crockett & Tubbs being themselves. There are little touches that are reflective of the original characters as I know them such as Crockett charming a female bartender at the start, or Tubbs offering his compassionate condolences to interagency commander Fujima, “Sorry about your men.” Regardless of that, you don’t get to know the men personally. It’s all on the surface because that’s what the script demands of them. There is only one such personal scene, but it comes so extremely late in the film, it does nothing to enhance the characters for the audience’s benefit. Also, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, who was one of the most fascinating and textured characters of the original series, portrayed amazingly well by the always fantastic Edward James Olmos, is now just another random character. Simply said, if you changed the names of all these characters, and slapped a different title on the film, you’d never know it was supposed to be Miami Vice.
The attempted romance between Sonny and Isabella just fell flat for me. Part of it is that Gong Li doesn’t speak English very well, and so, she has to spend more time just trying to pronounce the words instead of putting character and emotion behind them. You can see this relationship is having a conflicted effect on Sonny since he’s playing the undercover role of Sonny Burnett, a criminal and smuggler, and has to be close to her without actually being Sonny Crockett. He loves this woman, but as I said, the chemistry isn’t there. I felt no spark between them. No heat. Like so many things in this movie, it just doesn’t click.
The music is also dark and brooding. Aside from a few dance club scenes, the music is not lively. The music itself is not bad at all, I own the soundtrack, but it just further drags down the emotional weight of the film. I know the pop music of today is not like that of the 1980s, but this 2006 movie seems to make every effort to be in stark contrast to everything that defined the name Miami Vice. Thus, why I was so disappointed at the time of release. Michael Mann approached this film with the intention of realism. Make everything feel real, and do nothing that is not comparable to the true operations and people of this world. However, making it too realistic drains out the entertainment value, and the depth to the story being told. Because of this, as I said, the movie comes off more like a documentary.
On a positive note, the cinematography is mostly gorgeous. The shots over the open water as Sonny & Isabella speedboat to Havana are wondrous and sprawling. I live near Chicago, and so, the only large body of water I can enjoy is Lake Michigan. Still, staring out into that endless horizon, to the edge of the world is so perfectly tranquil, and that sense is captured here, exponentially. The film has a large amount of handheld work. A lot of it is handled well, but it can get to be too much. However, it’s nowhere near as bad as Mann’s next film Public Enemies. That was the perfect example of a badly shot movie. Collateral was amazing in every aspect to me, and I embraced the HD digital video look of it. It was shot fantastically. Miami Vice is the downward step between Collateral and Public Enemies in many ways, not just in camera work.
Characters in Michael Mann films went from deep, textured, and complex people to far more stoic people who Mann does not allow to show their depth. While Manhunter is my favorite Mann film, it is The Insider that I feel remains his best film to date. That was the clear definition of character depth, and a well written dramatic film. And Mann did it all without a single action sequence or gunshot. People conflicting with other people on an emotional, psychological, and ideological level. While based on true events, it shows that Mann can bring those qualities out in his films. Where it has gone in the last few years is beyond me.
Miami Vice was marketed as a slick, dangerous, edgy, sexy, and exciting summer action film. That is not the film Michael Mann made, and the film I got was not the one I expected to see on an August midnight showing in 2006. However, after listening to his director’s commentary, and allowing the passage of time, I at least have appreciation for the film it could have been. I understand what Mann was going for, and I love the ideas behind it. I just don’t feel it all successfully came together in this movie. The worst part of the film was the ending. As the movie progressed, I felt there hadn’t yet been a climax. There was a big shootout, but it felt like a precursor to the real climax. Nothing had yet been resolved on a plot development or emotional level. Jesus Montoya was still out there, at large, and I felt like the film would lead into Crockett & Tubbs going after him to shut him down. This was because the same thing happened in the episode “Calderone’s Return.” The villain from the pilot episode escaped, and now, Sonny & Rico had the chance to get him for good. They speedboat to the Bahamas for a final confrontation. None of that happened here. There’s a montage sequence, Crockett walks into the hospital, and the movie cuts to black. Roll credits. There was no resolution to any plot or character elements in the film. The bad guy gets away, he will rebuild his empire, and life goes on. All the Miami Vice squad achieved was killing a bunch of thugs with guns. Expendable, replaceable people in Montoya’s employ. You can pull that off on a television series because there’s always next week, sometimes next season to revisit the storyline, and tie it off at a later time (just like “Calderone’s Return”). In a feature film, you have only 90-120 minutes to establish, develop, and resolve a story. There was no satisfying resolution to Miami Vice 2006. Had there been, maybe I could forgive a lot of the negative marks by there being an exciting ending that actually resolved something that the audience decided to invest their time in.
The worst thing to do going into this movie is to anticipate anything resembling the 1980s television series. Going into it expecting a Michael Mann film might be more suitable, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be pleased. It’s been five years since this film was released, and while I have an appreciation for the ideas behind it, and enjoy much of the cinematography, I don’t view it as that good of a film. The lack of chemistry amongst the cast, momentum within the story, and the grim overall sense just doesn’t allow for much to invest in, unfortunately.