Movie reviews are no place for understatement or for holding back opinions. Readers want to know what they're getting for their eight or nine bucks. So here's a four-word, non-understated opinion: This movie's a mess.

I was not the biggest fan of the mid-'80s TV show about fashion-savvy vice squad cops who tidied up criminal activities while driving all over Florida. But during its five-year run, I did drop in on it once in a while and found it mildly entertaining.

The show was executive-produced by Michael Mann, who has since gone on to write and direct Manhunter, Heat and Ali. He's now written and directed a screen version of this TV show. But longtime fans are going to wonder what happened during the transformation process. Simply put, the show lost a lot and the film gained very little.

It still takes place in Miami, and it still features two detectives -- Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. But while the show thrived on the relationship of their being partners, watching their backs and genuinely liking each other, the film relegates that partnership to a relationship that's strictly business. "I will never doubt you," says Tubbs to Crockett, about two-thirds of the way through the film. That's about as close to camaraderie as they get here.

Crockett is played by Colin Farrell, Tubbs is played by Jamie Foxx, and neither of these guys need list this project as anything that shows off their acting chops. My guess is that Mann was going after atmosphere over acting and plot. Unfortunately, he ends up achieving only an air of incoherence.

The film opens in ragged, jagged manner, with loud music in a crowded night club, seen through shaky cameras, where a police sting is about to go down. There's no explanation of what's happening, and it feels as if you've come into the film late, maybe missed a few minutes. Just as a story starts coming together, Mann abruptly changes his mind, drops whatever is going on, and launches into another story, one about problems going on within an inter-agency task force. Our resident pair of good guys, who are presented as tough and vicious, are asked to work undercover for the feds in foiling some kind of drug operation.

It's a plot that might have come right out of the TV show. But again, the show and the film don't have much in common. Both do share fancy cars and fancy boats, and Sonny does display some stubble on his face. But while Crockett once favored a riot of pastels in his wardrobe, here he goes for a dark, monochromatic look. And though the show was known for its glitzed-up look, the bountiful nighttime photography of the film is gritty, grainy and quite distracting.

In agreeing to take the job, Crockett and Tubbs insist that they work on their own, with no direction from the people they're working for. Soon they're in the midst of setting up a drug buy with the mysterious and dangerous Jose Yero (John Ortiz), who likes Tubbs' approach but gets a bad feeling from Crockett.

The same feeling will likely occur with most viewers. Foxx's Tubbs comes across as slick; Farrell's Crockett looks like a sleazeball. In fact, it's Tubbs who has the steady girlfriend here -- Trudy (Naomie Harris), one of the members of his team. They get to share a wet shower scene. The plot has Crockett running off with a big South American crime lord's lady, Isabella (Gong Li). They get to share a sweaty bedroom scene. Crockett works her and uses her, with the intent of bringing down her man.

Everything about the film feels like it's one long buildup to something that's just got to lead to a big payoff. But it goes on for an hour, often in circles, usually ending up back with Crockett and Tubbs and the shady Yero. A few ingredients get very much in the way, too. Some of the characters have almost indecipherable accents, so a lot of information is missed. There's a great deal of jargon (governmental and drug-related) in the script, and hardly any of it is explained. And then there's all that grainy footage.

Things start going wrong for the good guys, some backstabbing takes shape among the bad guys, and finally, about 90 minutes into the two-hour film, there are a couple of terrific, action-packed sequences -- one involves a rescue attempt-assault on a trailer park, the other is a gun-fueled, extremely violent showdown in a shipyard.

If there was more of this kind of stuff earlier in the film, it would be easier to sit through. The climax is great, but there's too much preamble. And this movie, which started in chaos, ends abruptly, without much thought given to resolving much of anything.

Compared to what happens in the new Miami Vice, the old TV show is starting to look pretty good.

MIAMI VICE Rated: R Directed by Michael Mann Starring Collin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li

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