I have rarely done reviews on comedies because it’s difficult to analyze them very much. It’s either funny or its not. Of course, different things make different people laugh, and so, it’s far more subjective than a drama or action movie. However, there is this 1985 movie from John Landis that sparked my interest in the past year. The plot sounded like just my kind of thing. A wild, humorous adventure of people on the run from dangerous criminals through the night streets of Los Angeles. Sort of evoking the idea of a comedic Michael Mann film. Unfortunately, this movie shares a lot of problems with Mann’s underwhelming and momentum starved Miami Vice feature film, which I have previously reviewed here. There are a few bright spots, but the execution and pacing of this film are its greatest flaws.
Upon discovering that his wife is having an affair, depressed insomniac Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) drives to the airport on the suggestion of his friend and co-worker Herb (Dan Aykroyd), where he is abruptly ensnared by a beautiful Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) into her escape from four armed Iranians. Diana persuades Ed into driving her to various locations as he becomes entangled in her predicament. As their adventure spirals further out of control, Ed leverages the truth from Diana who reveals she has smuggled priceless emeralds from the Shah of Iran’s treasury into the country, and is being pursued by numerous foreign criminal elements. Ed and Diana cautiously navigate through this treacherous journey to where they become romantically connected.
Generally, I like the premise of this film. It has the potential to be very entertaining, if put into the right hands. However, this really wasn’t. Comedy is really about timing, rhythm, and personality. Into The Night has no momentum to carry the intended situational humor along at a necessary rhythm or pace. For a film about people on the run from violent criminals, it is a fairly slow paced feature. It is very unlike John Landis’ The Blues Brothers which had those high energy moments to keep the story exciting and funny. There are a few exciting action sequences in this film, but they are very scarce. The story also doesn’t have any quick witted personalities to reel a mass audience in.
I have enjoyed Jeff Goldblum’s talent since Jurassic Park playing some off-beat characters that add a different flavor to the story or cast. I don’t find any flaw with him in this movie. It plays to a more subdued version of his signature style. Being a guy with insomnia who has gone an unknown number of days without proper sleep, he can’t be highly charismatic and energetic. Ed has to be a more low key guy because of his fatigue and slowed wits. Many of us have gone without a proper night’s rest, and that alone impairs your mental capabilities. I, myself, have gone a full thirty-six hours without sleep, and even that is enough to muddle one’s synaptic sharpness. There is nothing wrong with what Goldblum did in this movie. Playing the straight man can make you the most hilarious person in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones in the Men in Black movies comes to mind, but it only works in contrast to something else.
Instead, all the other characters are very one note playing up a shallow characterization, and adding little to what should have been a cast of lively, eclectic characters. They are generally peculiar and diverse, but there are no strong or charismatic personalities to allow any humor to thrive through them. It’s all too low key, and too many people playing the straight man offering no overt humor. I feel it would’ve been better to have just Ed be the singular low key character surrounded by more verbose people to create a contrast. His drab and mundane life would be interrupted by all these vibrant, off-kilter characters that carry him along on a very bizarre adventure. I also find it hard to grasp is that none of the characters are even trying to be funny. They yell and argue with one another with no punch line, no humorous twist to create a laugh, or they drift through the movie playing it straight with a dull thud. Everything is far too underplayed to be funny. The fact is, I found very little about this film to be funny except for the physical comedy. A little of that comes from Goldblum, but mostly from the dialogue devoid group of Iranians (of which director John Landis is one of them). However, there is one excellent exception to all of this.
In the entire movie, the only person I feel hit the personality and charisma of what it needed was David Bowie. His British hitman character of Colin Morris really jumps in with the right subtle crazy tone and wit. He’s very proper and polite, but is clearly a psychopath that is both scary and amusing. Bowie has only two scenes, but he easily steals the show with a richly developed character that is a prime example of what this film should’ve offered in spades. Colin is both smartly humorous and lethally dangerous. That’s a dynamic rich with comedic potential. It really is Bowie’s charisma and delicate sense of tone that makes Colin Morris work. How he is able to shift from funny to fearsome creates it’s own comedy. Bowie clearly had a lot of fun playing this role, which is not something I saw much of from anyone else. A comedy should seem like everyone is enjoying themselves, getting into their characters and having a wonderfully amusing time at it. None of the other actors seemed to be having a great time on screen playing up their characters and finding their chemistry with the cast.
Fortunately, the musical score by blues legend B.B King is the true shining point of the movie. It surely gives the whole film a wonderful, unique feel that suits a mostly nighttime set story. With the right pacing and wit from the film itself, B.B. King’s music could’ve enhanced the rhythm and personality of the movie, but as it is, the blues tracks are just a cool listen that occasionally boost the film’s atmosphere.
As with most comedies of this time period, the cinematography is not much to speak of. It’s really just a point and shoot mentality, like a sitcom. So, it’s nothing I will hold against it. Comedy films today do a lot more with polishing up the visual flare and photography of the movie to enhance their production values, but in the bulk of the ‘80s, that approach did not often exist. If Into The Night had a little more vision and ambition behind it maybe it would have a little more visual style.
Again, the premise had promise. I surely believe a remake with modern pacing and filmmaking mentalities could potentially turn this around into a more effective comedy. Frankly, Into The Night needed more momentum, a faster pace to bring out the humor in the story instead of dragging along from one underwhelming scenario to the next. The villainous characters should’ve been larger than life and more over the top to bolster laughs. Goldblum plays his role well reacting to the few outrageous moments with subtle genius. Michelle Pfeifer was a nice female lead, but was not quite as endearing as I believe her character should’ve been. There could’ve been more chemistry sparked between Goldblum and Pfeifer, but like with everything else here, it’s not motivated strongly enough to create something special. I think the filmmakers believed this movie had wit, but they could never hit it on the mark. Some reviews have said it tried too hard for laughs. In a way, maybe that is correct. This film goes to great lengths to have an elaborate storyline filled with a large cast of characters. It tries hard to find a place and a moment for each of them, but it only comes off as overbloated. Comedy should never be complicated. It should be simple, or at least, streamlined. You throw too many elements into the joke, and you lose the effect of the punchline. I think that is a perfect way to sum up this movie. While the storyline is not confusing, it is overworked and a little self-indulgent. By evidence of the massive amount of filmmaker cameos, there is a self-indulgent mentality in the approach to this feature film. John Landis had a short window of inspired cinematic comedy brilliance, but it was more than twenty years ago. Into The Night was a definite misstep during that high point era, but movies like Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000 show just how far and hard his movie career has fallen.
There are films I enjoy because of their potential, and to some degree, this is one. A story that could’ve been made into an excellently hilarious film, but just achieved nearly nothing of that potential. The film has shown up regularly on HBO or Cinemax in the last several months. So, you shouldn’t need to spend money to check it out. Just program your DVR if you’re fortunate enough to get those premium channels. If not, it’s not a real loss. There are countless more successfully funny movies out there to give you a healthy laugh than this one.
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.