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Sea, Sun, and Hungry Sex

Why Miami Vice is such delirious eye candy. Plus: Woody Allen’s sweet smell of near success.

Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play super-detectives “Sonny” Crockett and “Rico” Tubbs in Michael Mann’s gargantuanly expensive Miami Vice remake, and it’s a stellar runway on which to model their preternatural cool. The look of the movie is rougher than the old TV show’s—swervy, jittery, video-grainy. And Farrell and Foxx aren’t sleek pretty boys like their predecessors: They wear roomy suits to accommodate their pumped-up physiques. But the vibe endures—the entrancing interplay of the torrid and the torpid. In the eighties, the combination often seemed like a commercial for cocaine (mounds of it), but it’s really that old Mann-ly existentialism. Like the protagonists of Thief and Heat, Crockett—probably named after Davy—longs for a connection, finds it fleetingly (hungry sex, woozy alienation, hungry sex), and (while his black brother heads home to a fine lady) is invariably left alone with his wardrobe.

Early reviewers have labeled Miami Vice a disaster, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It’s a sensational trip—gorgeous, gaga. Mann, who also wrote the screenplay, does nothing so mundane as establish the characters of Crockett and Tubbs, the way he did in the TV pilot. He simply plops the duo down mid-story, in a throbbing Miami nightclub on a stakeout. By and by, Tubbs sees a flashy pusher lead a drugged-out young woman to the exit and can’t contain his righteous fury. Fighting his way toward the bad guy, he deftly breaks a bodyguard’s fingers, and Crockett throws his muscular arms around Tubbs and says, “Easy, easy, easy—his day will come.” His day never does, whoever he is, since a short time later a friend of the pair’s dies gruesomely after running afoul of some sneering Aryan dealers, and Crockett and Tubbs (and their team) are drafted by the Feds to whiz off to Haiti posing as drug smugglers.

This they do prodigiously—Mann’s alter egos are masters at their trade (law enforcement or lawbreaking, interchangeably). What follows is scene after scene of macho glowering—of men sizing one another up, scanning their adversaries’ faces for signs of duplicity or weakness. But it’s the big cheese’s mistress (Gong Li), with her leggy ice-queen affect, who inevitably mesmerizes Crockett. He catches a glimmer of vulnerability under her ultracompetent pose and knows she’s squishy—like him. The movie is so money: Crockett asks her out for mojitos and off they speed toward Havana in a boat that would make Batman squeal in awe.

There isn’t a lot of gunplay in Miami Vice, but there’s plenty of action. Mann lingers on Foxx’s rippling back as Tubbs and his woman (the luscious Naomie Harris) get it on in the shower—he’s aiming to steam up your glasses. Mann ladles on the mood-rock, and sure, it’s a little much: A project that began in the early eighties with the late Brandon Tartikoff handing Mann a piece of paper that read “MTV cops” is always going to carry a whiff of camp. But Mann isn’t detached; he’s in there working it, doing bebop variations on old themes. He and his cinematographer, Dion Beebe, make everything strange—the hard horizontal lines of office buildings, the maze of tributaries off Biscayne Bay. Shots of Crockett and Tubbs’s team are near hallucinatory in their mixture of amorphousness and brisk efficiency. The violence is fast, messy, discombobulating—much of the climactic shootout is Cops style, from a limited video vantage, the soft pop-pop-pop of distant guns far eerier than the usual overamplified cannon roars.

Disorientation cuts both ways, of course: As a thriller, Miami Vice is only semi-coherent, with an ending that leaves more than one thread dangling in the surf. But who needs another ordinary buddy-cop movie? To paraphrase Butch Cassidy, confusion is a small price to pay for beauty.

We’re on familiar ground with Woody Allen’s Scoop—although shooting in London has given the prolific (too prolific?) writer-director some fresh locations and accents. Last winter’s overpraised Match Point was a British translation of Crimes and Misdemeanors and bore the dubious message that if you get away with murder, God doesn’t exist. Scoop is a British translation of Manhattan Murder Mystery and bears no message whatsoever. Much the better! The movie is hit-and-miss, but its peppy spirit boosts it over the net.

It begins with a peppy spirit—the ghost (Ian McShane) of a newly deceased Fleet Street legend who appears to a young American journalism major (Scarlett Johansson) while she’s taking part in a vanishing act by a third-rate magician (Woody Allen). The ghost has learned that the wealthy son (Hugh Jackman) of a lord is a notorious serial killer, and since he can’t publish the story himself, he wants the girl to nail it down. Come to think of it, why can’t he publish it himself? Why not materialize in front of his editor? Oh, right: That would kill the premise, in which the girl and the kvetching magician are bumbling sleuths, the girl falls for the handsome aristocrat, and farcical mayhem ensues.