Perception Is Reality

Drugs, guns, violence, beauty, style, and the illusory world of Miami Vice

A look at Miami Vice's production notes further muddies speculation. With Wu-Tang Clan member RZA composing the film's score, expect a soundtrack of jarring hip-hop, not a kitschy replay of Eighties hits by Phil Collins and Glen Frey. Actress Gong Li (of Farewell My Concubine fame) is set to play Isabella, the Chinese-Cuban wife of a crime-syndicate head and the conflicted love interest of Crockett's Colin Farrell. Naomie Harris plays fellow detective Trudy Joplin, girlfriend to Tubbs's Jamie Foxx.

More curious are the scheduled shooting locations, which include not only Port-au-Prince but also Havana, with apparently at least one scene shot on the island featuring Everlayn Gorges as the winner of a "Miss Cuba" beauty pageant -- no doubt preparing to head for Miami with her portfolio tucked under one arm. It remains unclear just how Mann intends to have Universal Pictures set up shop in Cuba -- dodging the U.S. trade embargo, which prohibits the direct financing or production of commercial films on the island.

David Fulton, a spokesman for Mann, insists Havana's inclusion in Miami Vice's production notes is merely a bureaucratic misunderstanding on Universal's part. "There are scenes in the movie that depict Havana," Fulton confirms, "but [Mann] always knew from the beginning that it would be impossible for us to shoot there." Instead, November will find Mann whisking his cast and crew off to Uruguay, where Montevideo will serve as a mock Havana.

Mann himself has been tightlipped, banning the press from his film's set. In one of his few interviews, a brief phone chat, he offered up only what Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks III called "cryptic hints" about his film's story line, seeming more interested in the current real-estate mania and its luxury high-rise condos than in rehashing the life of drug lords or venturing out for club crawls on South Beach. The one name he dropped was local architect Chad Oppenheim, not Pablo Escobar, but Mann was no less dazzled than he had been two decades earlier. "Miami Vice is kind of a state of mind, kind of an attitude," he told Hanks, invoking the Magic City as "a Caribbean Las Vegas" that maintained the "same attitude that was prevalent in 1984."

Such a dichotomy will undoubtedly inspire a media blitz upon the release of Mann's film next summer. Just as an earlier generation of scribes was sent parachuting into town to document the environment surrounding Miami Vice's first incarnation, every glossy magazine editor in New York will surely want a fresh look at the city. Miami's vice of 1985 versus its vice of 2005 -- on- and offscreen -- stand as convenient bookmarks. Simply add the requisite number of scantily clad models and you have a circulation-booster to boot. And if history is any guide, as these new images are reflected back to Miami, many of them will eventually become reality.

In fact Details wasn't even willing to wait until next year. The magazine, which has impressed advertisers with its ability to both mirror and forecast the sensibilities of young men, used its September 2005 issue to lay out its own take on Miami's present-day highlife, under the headline Miami Vice: The Sequel. An opening two-page spread deployed the de rigueur brace of topless blondes sunbathing on a speedboat to illustrate its tag that "the Crockett-and-Tubbs days of sex, coke, and money are back with a vengeance in Southern Florida."

Yet not a single drug dealer appears in Details's story. No suave undercover officers, not even a loudmouthed, jewelry-flashing criminal defense attorney makes it into Andrew Stengel's account. Instead of cartel heads, Stengel profiles real-estate developers like Jorge Perez, David Edelstein, and the always-good-for-a-ribald-quote Thomas Kramer. Their consigliore is nightlife promoter Michael Capponi, who might know little of real-estate law but is a master at attracting moneyed crowds -- or at least the women to entice them. The brash cocaine cowboys who kept the cash flowing are now young investors throwing around deposits, taking out foolhardy interest-only mortgages, and blithely flipping preconstruction condos as if they were nothing more than pancakes. And cocaine, once the focal point of the entire Eighties social whirl? Ubiquitous for sure, but simply as a fuel that keeps the party swinging through the night -- and that prevents anyone from thinking clearly enough to ask probing questions that extend beyond those fabulous new floor plans.

Only one character is missing from this colorful picture: today's answer to the Eighties' fabled investment banker -- the hedge-fund manager, that archetypal young Turk who, having been freed from the stultifying atmosphere of traditional Wall Street brokerages and their SEC regulations, gleefully promises his clients investment returns that not only beat the market but also approach the profit margins of late-night drug deals.

How do these enterprising financiers achieve these stunning returns? In a growing number of cases, they don't. Up at West Palm Beach's KL Group, hedge-fund managers Won Sok Lee and Yung Bae Kim dazzled the town with their outsize lifestyles and ingratiating charm -- that is until the duo mysteriously disappeared this past February with more than $200 million from their 225 investors, many from Miami. The SEC's investigative head here has compared the KL Group to a classic pyramid scheme, but with its missing culprits, clueless police, and a flock of fleeced millionaires as embarrassed as they are angry, this is more than just a cautionary tale for today's Miami, or a fresh update of the "Smuggler's Blues." It sounds an awful lot like grist for Michael Mann and his new Miami Vice.

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