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Watch out, guys! It’s all a set-up! Craig Courtice, Richard Crouse, Jason Chow National Post Friday, August 04, 2006

28vice.600Quentin Tarantino has said the sign of a good film is that it makes you want to go home, eat some pie and talk about it. With that in mind, our Popcorn Panel features film buffs feuding in this space each week.


– Craig Courtice, a short filmmaker who isn’t very tall
– Richard Crouse, host of Rogers Television’s Reel to Real, Canada’s longest-running movie review show, and the author of The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen (ECW Press, 2003). His Web site is www.richardcrouse.ca
– Jason Chow, a TV columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and axe man for pop rockers The Good Soldiers (www.myspace.com/thegoodsoldiers)



CRAIG: Vice is like a drug bust gone wrong. That’s not to say it’s not an interesting picture; all the parts are here, it’s just that they don’t add up. Literally, there is no way Michael Mann’s latest will make back its US$125-million budget at the box office. Sure, it opened in first place last weekend with just over US$25-million. But that’s about the same number Collateral, Mann’s previous effort, opened at during the summer of 2004. That movie ended up with just over US$100-million in ticket sales, but cost only US$65-million to make. Vice won’t even make it that high, and here’s why.
1) Collateral featured studio golden boy Tom Cruise playing against type as a villain. People wanted to see Scientology’s mouthpiece get killed, even if it was only his character. Vice stars Colin Farrell, who has never proved himself as a big draw. The most popular film he was in was Minority Report (US$132-million), in which he played second fiddle to Cruise.
2) Jamie Foxx is in both pictures, but while he played a cab driver with a heart of gold forced into action in Collateral, here he plays Ricardo Tubbs, a mean mutha vice cop who already got the girl.
3) Collateral was a high-concept movie with a Crash-like ending in which everything ties up neatly. Vice drops you immediately into the headspace of a south Florida undercover police officer, which means lots of adrenaline, but also lots of disorientation and tedium.

RICHARD: Wow, Craig, I’m guessing you were disappointed by the movie. I agree with you that the individual parts of Vice don’t seem to add up to much — the lead actors have little chemistry, the story is unoriginal, convoluted and borders on not making much sense — but the beauty of the movie is in the telling, not the story itself. Mann makes cool-looking movies. Unlike the television show, the movie is dark, grainy and jumpy. He has turned the Sunshine State’s emblematic city into a dark, menacing paradise where the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t completely lose.

JASON: Dark and menacing, sure, but you can’t just categorically exclude sunshine and heat when you’re in Florida. The film is stylish, indeed, but Mann’s relentless intent on making a noirish antithesis to the TV series made the movie so one-dimensional that things got left by the wayside, like, as Craig said, character and story. To that list, I’d add location — the film could have been shot anywhere (e.g. Los Angeles). I expected an in-depth look at Miami-as-faux-paradise, but instead all I learned is that the town’s an hour’s speedboat ride away from Havana. Chico, Scarface is more Miami than Vice.

CRAIG: Like Alonzo, the informant played with harrowing elan by Deadwood’s John Hawkes, you two have been set up. I actually thought the picture was an excellent piece of art. I was just pointing out that it will be a bitter disappointment for fans expecting an easy blockbuster. The International Movie Database user rating, for example, is only 6.3 out of ten.
But on to a new topic. Scott Holleran of Boxofficemojo.com writes of Vice: “this dark, grainy picture needs subtitles to be understood. That’s not just because actress Gong Li (Crockett’s love interest) struggles with the English language in each scene, though that is a problem. As an Asian stereotype, she juts her head like a 16-year-old gangbanger flashing signs at the mall.” Normally, I’d just ignore this as the ramblings of some hack, but the criticism shows up in many reviews. News to the English-speaking press: Most people in the world don’t speak your language as their mother tongue. Is Mann trying to say something with this casting choice or was it a mistake?

RICHARD: Was casting a beautiful, talented actress in a major role a mistake? I don’t think so. Her performance oozes sensuality and the obvious age difference between Gong and Farrell makes their relationship even more interesting. Usually Hollywood tries to sell the idea that it’s perfectly normal for ancient, wrinkled men to date young women, but casting Gong turns that idea on its head, although she is far from ancient and wrinkled.
My issue is not with the casting, but with the underuse of other actors. Mann has assembled a great cast — Foxx, Ciaran Hinds, Justin Theroux, to name a few –and given them very little to do other than brood. Farrell shines, in an unshaven kind of way, because at least his character has some spunk. He gives a performance of mock seriousness that sometimes borders on camp, barking his tough-guy lines in a way that would knock the pastel off the original Crockett. Don Johnson’s Crockett was unhappy and angry, but in this movie seems to have turned his life around. Now he’s angry and unhappy.

JASON: The problem isn’t Gong; the problem is the premise of her character: A pseudo-femme fatale who is the child of a diplomatic translator from Angola who somehow is hooked up with a Castro look-alike drug mogul with whom she communicates in stilted English while reading the business sections of Spanish newspapers? I admit I made the same comments about subtitles after I left the theatre. I had to strain to hear some of the lines uttered by the ESL actors. That said, Mann deserves credit for attempting to cast a global village for his movie — not because I believe in affirmative action but because he’s breaking out of the regular Hollywood racial cliches. Crockett and Tubbs aren’t the only multi-ethnic working couple in play here; bad guys can be racially cool, too.

© National Post 2006

Unpopped kernels 
National Post
Published: Friday, August 04, 2006

First Tom Arnold in McHale’s Navy now Miami Vice. The boys broach the best and worst of movie adaptations of TV shows and make the case for programs that haven’t been given the big-screen treatment. (Hint: Mr. T, we’re ready for your closeup)

Craig: It appears for better or worse that movie adaptations of TV show are here to stay. Compared to such winners as Bewitched, and the Tom Arnold-in-a-sea-captain’s-outfit McHale’s Navy, Miami Vice looks like a masterpiece. Are there any other adaptations you would make the case for that worked (Starsky & Hutch?)? More importantly what shows haven’t been done that you would like to see? My choice is The A Team — and pronto while Mr. T can still reprise his role as B.A. Baracus. In lieu of the deceased George Peppard I suggest another suave George for Colonel “Hannibal” Smith. “If you have a problem and no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the Clooney…” Cue the best theme song in TV history!

Richard: The leap from the small to big screen is usually quite painful, although when the people involved in the television show are left in the loop the results can be OK. I thought the South Park movie worked well and the recent sci-fi film Serenity was actually better than the show it was based on, Firefly. In both cases the guiding hands on the movies had also created and directed the television shows. The most prolific of the television based movies, the Star Trek series, really has only two winners out of the bunch — Wrath of Khan and First Contact, both of which were based on stories that originated on the small screen (Space Seed, and Best of Both Worlds). But for every Untouchables that works, there’s a S*W*A*T that sucks the life out of its source material. For every Fugitive, there’s a Dragnet — you get the idea. They are the ying and yang of television-to-film adaptations.
Craig wants to see The A-Team revived. I’m not so sure. I survived that one as a youth and I’m not sure I’m up to it again. I’d rather see Bosom Buddies, starring Eddie Izzard and the guy that played Angel in Rent. Or maybe WKRP with Paris Hilton as Jennifer Marlowe, Bart the Bear as Mr. Carlson and an IKEA swivel chair as Johnny Fever. Actually I’d rather see someone in Hollywood flick off the TV and come up with an original idea.

Chow: The studios are apparently working on a movie adaptation of Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff reprising his character, Michael Knight, and KITT, once again, as the rational talking car. According to IMDb.com, it’s slated for 2008 release, but keep in mind this project has been in the making for four years and no script has been agreed upon just yet, so sit tight, boys. As for past remakes, I thought the Brady Bunch was fantastic and Starsky & Hutch was pure turkey. My vote for a movie adaptation: Rockford Files. Starring, of course, George Clooney.

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