Miami Vice: Buddy Flick for Aught-Six

July 29, 2006

Last night, the husband and I fulfilled a lonstanding date with destiny and celebrated his 24th with a viewing of this film on opening night. I say film, and I mean it, although I wasn’t expecting to. I went into the theatre hoping for a couple of eyebrow-raising chase sequences, a little male nudity, and a lot of Miami scenery. I got the third in spades, and the second, and a few of the first, but something else too, something that I can’t stop thinking about. So I’m going to let you into my brain a little bit, and try not to include any spoilers, and not worry that you’re thinking that I think about this stuff too much. It’s just a summer movie, but why leave it at that? It’s one thing to keep raving about obscure foreign flicks and indie you’ve netflixed, things that always meant to change your life, but it’s something else to wade into the fray of what happens when visions are meshed with marketing plans and the accountants have it out down and dirty with actors and look for enlightenment in the midst of mass culture. As my very first film studies teacher constantly reminded us, Hawkes and Hitchcock cared about box office. And what you lose in purity you can gain in cache–ambitious indie films gain a passionate if limited following, ambitious studio movies influence the conversation even when they fail.

Enough justification, let us to the guilty pleasure. I’ll confess I wanted to love this movie, but I will also vigorously assure you that there were many moments during the movie in which I wasn’t so sure I would be able to, but when I could consider the whole, I knew that I did. It won me over, and although I did want to be won, but the film did have to work for it.

There’s a lot about this film that is suprising. First thing, the timing. This film is very deliberately paced. Although it’s basically being sold as a model of your average action movie, it takes pains to separate itself from the very first frame on. Whether you think it works or not, I have never seen a more seamless start to a movie: without warning of any kind you’re waist deep in a South Beach club, listening to Linkin Park’s “Numb,” a little on edge but you don’t know why. Colin and Jamie are working on something, roaming the club but keeping their eyes open, and whatever that something is it goes out the window when they get a cellphone call that sends their whole purpose in life perpendicular from where it was. They then step to the roof, Miami skyline so casually highlighted in the background, and start being the badasses we paid to watch them be. I hope this isn’t a spoiler, but this movie isn’t a remake, it’s an update, and it is pitch perfect 2005. From the Linkin’ Park to the mojito, this movie gets it, although it does seem to flirt, fashion wise and theme wise, with the 80s. Nice mashup. The core reason why I think of this as a film is this very deliberateness. All the while, even when it’s making what are probably mistakes, it isn’t like oops, where’d my action flick go, it’s like, I think I’m going to try this and see if you understand it. Style is everything, and it’s surprising at almost every turn.
From the rooftop to the go-fast boat (gotta love these drug running technical terms), the film proceeds to show us the uber-cool and super gritty side of life in Miami. Yet it does so while showing us the humanity that preceeds the style. Foxx and Farrell get themselves into a wide range of dangerous situations, and not once are we made to feel like it’s in the bag. There is always a very believable sense that things could go wrong, and that it could this time be a hero’s guts splashed on the wall like a Jackson Pollack. Major kudos to the actors for finding meaning in lines that could have been emtpy, and making us believe them. I even forgave the inane “Hola chica, hola chico” on the strength of the actors’ committment to the script and to each other.

YET– all the while, I felt like this movie was so close to being a movie that could make me weep, but it stayed a little aloof. This, I think, is what kept me thinking into the wee hours. Why, with so many pieces in the right place, did I not walk out sold but realizing that if I hadn’t been so hungry for a Miami-hearting artish film I wouldn’t have been totally sold? My verdict is the odd lack of homoeroticism. Again, this film is built on the archetype of the buddy movie, yet totally betrays it. Why? Because it is clear that Foxx and Farrell love their girlfriends way more than they love each other, and that just doesn’t work. Instead of a constant tension between their love for each other that grows out of constantly having to place their lives in each other’s hands and the love that society expects them to have for beautiful women, we have a cool, rational agreement that although they are devoted to each other and their work, they really do care more about their women. Time and time again Mann stokes up the heterosexuality, from the lovely buttnekkid Foxx maximizing his manliness in bed to Farrell’s soulful opthalmic stylings as he watches the drug lordess he’s wooed walk down the street. Women first, buddies later. That’s not what we expect or even really want from a buddy movie. Butch and Sundance ignore Katherine Ross all day, and that’s why we loved them. That’s why we didn’t want them to break up and we preferred their violent ends to the wedded, domesticized alternative. For this Crockett and Tubbs, friendship is business and romance is for real. I suppose in the shadow of Brokeback Mountain, it might be a more daring move to make the heroes 100% hetero, but the film pays the price. Without the guy love, it’s a little harder to care. Not that I want to see women take second place (although in this movie they routinely do in professional spheres, pounding home the point that you can get the guy or you can be a bad-ass on the job, but not both), but the buddy movie relies on there at least being a sense of regret as the heroes move away from each other toward domestic responsibility. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like this was a product of our troubled, homophobic times. Also, our capitalistic times. There is no hedonistic pleasure to be found in this tropical extralegal world, it’s all business, it’s all bottom line.

Still, this one got under my skin. Visually, emotionally, philosophically. In the end, this is an existential flick following the classic hero’s tale. You’ve gotta be pretty disillusioned to be a drug runner or risk your life on behalf of something as theoretical as US law enforcement. The reason I loved this story was because it represented the compromised state I have come to believe that most adult life is conducted in. The last time a movie grabbed me this way was, I think, the first time, and the movie was The English Patient. And in all of my obsessive post-viewing research, I found a review somewhere that said something like this: to feel the earth move under this movie, you have to have outlived a few dreams. Well, to steal shamelessly from this writer I don’t even know the name of, ditto. This movie doesn’t hold up perfect people and tell us to emulate them. It holds up people that have found a niche, by intention or by accident, and who live in that niche for all it’s worth. They make choices on the margin of society, and their choices affect almost no one but themselves, but for them, every choice is of ultimate consequence. It’s a world where every minute might be too late but you might not know it yet, where there’s backdrops you can’t argue with like money and heat, where you are under a thumb and the best you can do is squirm with attitude. Maybe you have to be a little tropicalized to get this one. Maybe you have to look at the grainy skyline crowded with points of distilled light, unblinking in the face of tragedy and joy, and see it as a reality you’ve lived. Even if you’ve never touched a gun or broken a law in your life, you can still relate to a story that tells each choice in terms of life, passion, and death.

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