Why the Miami Vice TV Show is Cooler Than the Movie

I’ve been pretty pumped for the theatrical release of Miami Vice ever since i read about it 6 months ago.  So, in preparation of the movie’s release this weekend, i had been watching episodes of the first season of the Miami Vice TV show. That, and listening to Jay-Z’s and Linkin Park’s Numb/Encore every chance i could get (that’s the song playing in the movie’s trailer).  Watching the tv shows this past week, two episodes stick out in my memory from that first season, 1) the 2 hour pilot and 2) an episode called “Smuggler’s Blues.”

Let’s talk about the pilot for a moment. The pilot is a great beginning to a great series. It establishes Sonny Crockett crockett2.jpg(Don Johnson) as an ex-football superstar from U. of Miami – a boozing, emotionally-crippled, undercover agent whose marriage has fallen apart and has him living on a sailboat with an alligator named Elvis. He also drives a Ferrari and a cigarette boat to keep up his high-roller profile so he can easily co-mingle with the corrupt players of the Miami drug scene. His partner, fellow officer Ricardo Tubbs, is a NY officer (not detective) who has followed a drug lord to Florida to bring him to justice for murdering his brother. After initial friction between Crockett and Tubbs, the two decide to work together to bring down the drug lord and in the process they establish some good chemistry and eventually become partners.

Leaving the theater after viewing the movie version of Miami Vice this weekend, i had a strange feeling in my gut. The movie was incredibly cool: the fight scenes, the women, the cars, the music – all very slick. But, something wasn’t sitting right with me. And it was Colin Farrell. In the TV show, you buy into Crockett as an authentic southerner and a conflicted man who is torn between his job and the people he loves (co-workers, women, family). He is cold, distant and entirely dedicated to his job, yet at the same time has a warm heart and is making progress in dealing with his demons. He’s slowly becoming emotionally available to those who love him.

In the movie, you have no idea who Colin Farrell is. There’s no back-story provided. Because he has the same name (Sonny Crockett) as the TV show, you have to assume he’s the same guy. But he doesn’t act like Don Johnson’s Crockett. There’s no mention of him as an ex-football player, he doesn’t seem southern. In fact, he seems Irish. Like the TV-show Crockett he drives a sweet Ferrari but without any explanation you assume he’s either extremely wealthy like Will Smith’s Mike Lowery in Bad Boys or dirty like Michael Douglas in Black Rain.

Another problem i have about the movie is Crocket’s relationship with Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). In the TV-show, there is always a scene where Tubbs is helping Crockett open up and they have a genuine friendship who have each other’s back. In the film, Crockett basically does whatever he wants to do and leaves Tubbs to handle most of the details. There’s no love shown between the two. From the very first scene when Crockett was hitting on the bartender at a club, writer/director Michael Mann makes Crockett look like a complete cad. I was pretty confident that movie-Crockett would leave Tubbs hanging anywhere at any time for a hot chick. TV-Crockett would never have done that. He was older and not looking to just hook-up with any hot piece of ass that strolled by – all his romances were pretty serious (Gina and Brenda). For example, there’s a scene in the movie where Tubbs and Crockett go to the drug lord’s house in the middle of the Latin American jungle to set up the deal and Crockett asks the financial broker of the drug lord (the beautiful Gong Li) to go for a drink and then just takes off with her on the boat to Cuba. Way to strand your partner. How is Tubbs supposed to get home? Is he going to bum a ride from another drug lord at the house, “um, yeah, hey any of you guys doing a deal downtown? Any chance you can drop me off at my hideout?”


Given my Crockett and Crockett & Tubss issues, i still really liked the movie. It was very cool. In fact, if you haven’t seen the TV show lately, you’d probably enjoy it more. As for the plot, similar to the TV episodes, it is a) totally ridiculous, b) rarely makes sense, c) is never really quite resolved, d) involves a shipyard for the final drug exchange, e) unfortunately does not include the phrase “it’s going down” (which appears in each TV episode roughly 3 times), and doesn’t matter b/c the movie is cool enough without it. Even though the film is not up to Mann’s other classics Heat or Collateral, it is still worthy of a viewing.

The plot happened to be the exact same plot of the “Smuggler’s Blues” episode from the first season. In that episode, Crockett & Tubbs are recruited by DEA to pose as drug smugglers in an effort to expose someone in law enforcement who is murdering drug dealers and their families and ends with Trudy being held and bound to a bomb in a trailer. In the movie, they again pose as drug smugglers in an effort to expose a leak in some law enforcement agency and ends with Trudy being held and bound to a bomb in a trailer. While this plot is entertaining enough, I think they would have been better off remaking the pilot episode which introduces a Miami police detective James “Sonny” Crockett who reluctantly teams with New York bred newcomer to the Miami scene Ricardo Tubbs to solve several murders connected to a mysterious Colombian drug lord (and connected to Tubb’s brother death). This is a much better story that could re-create a twenty-first century version of the Crockett and Tubbs characters and perhaps even start a movie franchise. This could have been the Batman Begins (Christian Bale) of the series instead of Batman Return (Michael Keaton and Danny Devito).

So, bottom line – if you’re looking to get yourself in deep, so deep you don’t know which way is up (a line used in both tv show and the movie), i’d recommend you take a trip to the 80’s and rent the DVD’s rather than turning on Netflix.

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12 thoughts on “Why the Miami Vice TV Show is Cooler Than the Movie
  1. As a big fan and student of the TV series, I’m underwhelmed with the film, which failed to distance itself from the TV series in any way. The film was flat, somewhat soulless, and very derivative of things done in the TV series, and done better. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx made me yearn for Don Johnson and P.M. Thomas., who could have done the same job much better. The episodes “Prodigal Son” and “Freefall”, to name two, were ten times more potent. The movie also completely braindead in terms of political substance. It was the politics that made the original series great. I’ve always thought that a reunion film should have been made, bringing the original cast into today’s (much worse) drug world. Sadly, it won’t happen.

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  3. my favorite episodes were “Milk Run” and “Evan”… facorite characters .,.Izzy
    and crocket… the final episode/series when crockett had amnesia and really
    thought he was a genuine drug dealer – that topped it…

  4. Colin Farrell stepped on some shit he ain’t EVER gonna be able to get off his shoe. He should have NEVER of taken on the role of Sonny Crockett. First and Foremost, Michael Mann should have NEVER of did anything EVER AGAIN with Miami Vice so he would remain a legend. Rather, Mann was money hungry and fucked the whole thing up with the new movie. Don Johnson once said, “If anyone is to ever make a Miami Vice movie, they’d first have to deal with the Don Johnson factor”. This is all SO TRUE. When people went to see the movie, they wanted to see the young 33-year old Don Johnson back in his Prime (or a copy). Rather, they had to settle for a fuckin’ joke……one that did not rise to the challenge of Genius.

  5. I don’t agree with the Colin Farrel bashing. I liked his dark Crockett. I thought it was a rougher version of Don’s Crockett, which coincided with the more gritty feel of the movie, which I think was necessary. Too many people that are not true fans of the tv show, have mistaken memories of it being totally cheesy, which it wasn’t. They just don’t remember how groundbreaking and trendsetting it was. You couldn’t make another version of that in today’s world.
    The thing with this movie is that it was taking place as though we already know the story behind them, and this is just a slice of what they do. We enter their world in the middle of it, not the beginning, so alot of the back story and relationships are not front and center.
    I do wish there was a little more banter between Crockett and Tubbs in the movie, to show their friendship. I also think that Jamie Foxx was worse at playing Tubbs than Farrel was at playing Crockett. Foxx seems like every other similar character he plays, while Colin’s Crockett isn’t like anything he has portrayed before. Its almost like he didn’t want to take the back seat to Crockett even though thats kind of how it always was.
    Anyway, I thought the movie looked and felt great, and the ending was totally awesome.

  6. There will never be anything like the 80s Miami Vice, NEVER! this show in a way changed my feelings, my life and my soul! I am MADLY in love with the 80s MIami vice!!!!

  7. First of all, best line from any cop show ever is in the 2nd or 3rd episode, when a lady asks Crockett how he can go from the peacefulness of his boathome to the violence of the street, and he replies: “well, I usually take the Ferrari.” Which is exactly where the movie and both Farrell and Foxx missed the boat…so to speak. Miami Vice the show, was at the root, the absolutely COOLEST show ever. The characters were cool, the locale was cool, the cars, the music…Cool, cool, cool. Which is also why it couldn’t last. It was a shooting star. Nothing can be that frickin’ cool forever. eventually the show becomes a caricature of itself. Which is something I think Mann didn’t understand. He understood that he had to update the coolness, so he picked the two “coolest” actors he thought he could find…problem? He picked cool actors…who are to cool to create cool characters. Johnson and PH Thomas were relative unknowns when they hit the Miami Vice scene. So they could define themselves as these new characters, and the audience could allow it to happen.
    With Farrell the audience is left asking themselves…”Am I watching SWAT 2?” I thought Foxx made a great Crockett…seriously! LOL and Gina was a bad-ass in the flick. Other then that, you really can’t beat Miami Vice with Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.
    I would have loved to see the reunion movie. Sweet!

  8. I agree. A friend of mine who apparently didn’t like the show and/or Don Johnson claimed that the movie was good because “It’s not a Don Johnson thing. It had a storyline.” To each his own, but I always thought, I dunno about that. A lot of ppl hated the movie because they didn’t realize it had a storyline. My hometown paper called it plotless. Anyhow, the show had a bit of humor and character, and Michael Mann has claimed the movie didn’t need character development because Crockett and Tubbs are already well-known. That threw me for a loop b/c I buy into remakes and reimaginings being different from the original.  As for movie Crockett, they never said he was a Southerner, but I guess he was b/c we all know TV Crockett was.

  9. Sorry but Colin Farrell is no Sonny Crockett, only Don Johnson is…

  10. To be clear – I don’t really disagree with anything that you said.  The tv show is definitely cooler and the Crockett/Tubbs chemistry was essentially non-existent in the movie.

    That being said, I still think that the movie is underrated and, even if as a whole it isn’t “great”, it still stands out in a few areas:
    Three of the greatest “kill shots” in any movie that I’ve seen – the FBI guy getting his arm completely blown off by a .50 cal round in the first drug deal gone wrong, Gina shooting the white supremacist guy through the spine in the trailer park, and Tubbs blowing a whole in Yero’s chest at the shipyard
    Some beautiful and incredible cinematography and atmospheric scene construction that is unlike any other movies that I’ve seen – even for a Michael Mann Movie – like the shots of Tubbs’ airplane weaving through the clouds and flying towards the thunderstorms on the horizon, the SUVs driving through dimly lit styrofoam-strewn streets of Haiti, or the speedboats in the opening race and the buildup to the final confrontation
    Even if the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, almost all of them had complexity that was instantly hinted at.  In other words I can’t think of another movie that had more characters that you instantly *wanted* to know more about – ass-kicking Gina Calabrese, the hulking quietly reliable Switek, and the ambitious and scheming Yero for example.  Hell – even the bald gum chewing white supremacist guy.
    Tons of clever and subtle callbacks and references to the original tv show – particularly to “Smuggler’s Blues” – including several word-for-word lines from the show being used and even at least one scene that was blocked and shot almost exactly like its counterpart in the tv episode
    Hands down one of the best and most well-integrated soundtracks – again, even by Michael Mann’s standards.  “One of These Mornings” and the speed boat ride to Havana, “Numb/Encore” and “Sinnerman” in the opening club scene, and a haunting score in several other scenes such as the aforementioned Tubbs flight or the moment in the shootout at the end when Isabella realizes that Crockett is a cop.
    I think that you are overthinking it.  Get over the fact that it’s not a character-driven “origin story” and that Colin Farrell’s accent slips a few times.  Shut your brain off, and enjoy the ride.

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