‘Miami’ splice & dice 

Michael Mann once set the trends; now he just follows them. His new "Miami Vice" feature film, based on the TV show he executive produced (1984-89), is a compendium of cool stuff not only cribbed from other movies, but cribbed from movies at least 10 years old.

Think of any undercover cop/drug lord movie ("Deep Cover," "Hard-Boiled," "Reservoir Dogs," etc.), and "Miami Vice" has copied from it. The only thing it doesn’t copy is a sense of craftsmanship or storytelling.

But Mann is actually known for his style, and indeed, "Miami Vice" is a gorgeous movie. It has a dramatic sense of air, light and weather — and especially clouds. Some of the dazzling cloud displays — like summer storms brewing — must have taken longer to set up than it took Mann to write the script.

Replacing Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, Colin Farrell (wearing a weird mullet-like hairdo) and Jamie Foxx now portray Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, respectively.

Thankfully, the movie

doesn’t bother with an "origin" story. It just jumps right in: When a drug bust goes bad because of an unknown leak somewhere in the department, it’s up to Crockett and Tubbs to go undercover to find and stop the drug lord. Somewhere along the line, Mann forgets about the leak, however. Come to think of it, he also forgets about the drug lord.

The whole thing climaxes in a shootout, and an awkward romance between Crockett and the drug lord’s partner/lover (Gong Li).

In-between, characters gather in really cool places (million-dollar apartments, speedboats, South American warehouses, etc.), look really serious and read expository dialogue in a low

murmur.

That leaves only the movie’s style to make up for its complete lack of substance. Shooting on digital video, as in his overrated "Collateral" (2004), Mann goes with a grainy look and a deep-focused field. Sometimes a giant face will anchor one side of the frame (not unlike Orson Welles’ off-kilter visuals in "Touch of Evil"), and other times, the film resembles Spielberg’s close-to-the-bone battle footage from "Saving Private Ryan." Still other times, Mann goes with the trendy hand-held action stuff, used in regular sludge like this year’s "Running Scared."

There’s a difference between real art and what Mann does; a real artist finds a look or a touch and sticks with it, refining it over the course of a career. Mann drops his good ideas in favor of the newest, latest fad. He has no personal style — just style. If only he had mustered the courage to go with the cheesy, pastel thing once again.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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