In the early years of the 21st century, it looked like Michael Mann and Jamie Foxx were going to be Hollywood’s latest dynamic director/actor duo, following in the footsteps of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell and Wes Anderson and Bill Murray. Instead, their partnership exploded in spectacularly public fashion in October 2005 when Foxx fled the Dominican Republic set of Miami Vice — the long-awaited movie version of Mann’s blockbuster ’80s TV series — and refused to return.
The actor’s absence necessitated major third act rewrites that moved the movie’s climax from South America back to the mainland United States. Foxx eventually came back to finish the shoot, and Miami Vice premiered in theaters on July 28, 2006 to solid reviews and box office. Behind the scenes, though, the damage was apparently done: even though he and Mann seemed on good terms during the movie’s promotional tour, they notably haven’t made another film together in the past fifteen years.
It was a rough end to what had been a remarkable collaboration for both artists. The duo first met on Mann’s 2001 biopic, Ali, where Foxx’s quiet performance as Drew Bundini Brown often stole the spotlight from Will Smith’s transformative star turn as the boxing icon. Three years later, they reteamed for 2004’s Collateral, where Foxx once again pulled focus from the movie’s nominal star, a silver-haired Tom Cruise. That movie earned Foxx a Best Supporting Actor nomination that accompanied his Best Actor nod — and eventual win — for Taylor Hackford’s Ray.
At that point, Mann and Foxx decided to go for the hat trick by setting their sights on Miami Vice. During its five-season run on NBC, the series had immortalized Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the TV cop Hall of Fame as super-stylish undercover officers James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs respectively. Reviving the brand with himself as Tubbs was an idea that Foxx himself dreamed up and pitched to Mann during the making of Ali.
“I [said] ‘Hey, man, you did that Miami Vice thing, right? Why are you playing around? You need to do Miami Vice: The Movie,'” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2006. And in a New York Times profile that same year, Foxx revealed that he continued to pester Mann about a Miami Vice movie on the set of Collateral. “When we were shooting Collateral, I begged Michael Mann to make Miami Vice. I’d sing the theme song and tell him how to cut the trailer.”
Foxx’s passion for the project overcame Mann’s initial resistance to revisiting his past. “My initial reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, why would I want to go back to Miami Vice?'” the director said in a 2006 interview with film critic John Maguire. “Then I looked again at the pilot and some of the early episodes and I got kind of captured afresh by the deep currents and the emotional power of those stories.” Mann’s reimagined version of the series follows Crockett and Tubbs as they go deep undercover in pursuit of a drug kingpin whose criminal empire has tendrils that extend throughout the Caribbean.
Once Foxx and Mann were officially on the same page, the movie came together swiftly at Universal Studios, which almost certainly envisioned a potential film franchise. To play the modern-day Crockett opposite Foxx’s all-new Tubbs, Mann cast the much-in-demand Colin Farrell, whose string of early successes included Minority Report, Daredevil and S.W.A.T. Shooting started in the summer of 2005 with Mann planning an intense production schedule that took the cast and crew from Florida to South America and the Caribbean.
In a 2006 post-mortem chronicling the movie’s turbulent shoot, veteran Hollywood journalist Kim Masters revealed that things started going wrong early and often. A famously exacting director, Mann was prone to costly last-minute script changes. “It was being written essentially by Michael on the fly,” a crew member told Masters. “He was almost like a kid in a candy shop. That kind of indecision becomes a systemic thing. It’s hard, at the last minute, to make deals with vendors, rent a plane, to close down a freeway.” (Universal maintained that Miami Vice ultimately cost $135 million, although other sources suggested that the price tag was ultimately closer to $150 million.)
Meanwhile, Farrell was wrestling with his own demons. The Irish star has openly discussed his struggles with drugs and alcohol abuse, which came to a head during Miami Vice. As soon as production wrapped, he checked himself into rehab reportedly because of a dependency on prescription painkillers. (The actor had injured his back while bulking up for the role of Crockett.)
“By the end of Miami Vice I was just done,” he told British talk show host, Jonathan Ross, in 2008. “Basically, I’d been fairly drunk or high since I was 14. I was very drunk and high for 16 years, so it was a tough life change, and I was dying. I’m one of the lucky ones.” In a 2011 interview, Farrell revealed just how out of it he was while shooting. “It was literally the first time I couldn’t say to anyone around me, ‘Have I been late for work, have I missed any days, have I been hitting my marks?’ Because the answers would have been yes, yes, and no… I lost the ability to be confident that I could make a change myself.”
Speaking with The Irish Mirror in 2013, Farrell claimed that he doesn’t remember shooting “a single frame” of the film. “I was at the premiere and didn’t know what was happening next. But it was strange because I was in it.”
But Foxx’s behavior grabbed the most attention in the run-up to the movie’s release. Crew members that Masters spoke to for her article described the actor as “more of a diva” than his co-star, goading Universal into flying him to the Miami set via a private jet rather than a commercial airline and keeping an entourage around during production. For his part, Mann defended Foxx when he spoke with Masters ahead of the movie’s release. “I’m not going to dish dirt about Jamie. He has a unique process of acting, and most people don’t understand it. He and I are real close… That allows us to disagree about stuff.”
According to other insiders that Masters talked to, part of Foxx’s process was refusing to shoot certain sequences where the danger level was high. “He was afraid of boats, afraid of planes — there were a lot of things where he was afraid for himself,” a crew member claimed. Those alleged fears set the stage for the incident that forever changed the course of Miami Vice — not to mention Mann and Foxx’s off-screen relationship.
Prior to arriving in the Caribbean, the cast and crew of Miami Vice were already on edge after much of their stateside shoot was complicated by hurricane season. In her article, Masters describes how high winds generated by Tropical Storm Dennis nearly disrupted one scene by blowing out the windows of a Miami high-rise. The falling glass damaged the car that Foxx and Farrell were riding in, and just missed injuring the stars as well. “You bet it was dangerous,” Mann said when asked about that moment. “As soon as we heard there were winds that high, we immediately wrapped.”
When shooting shifted to the Dominican Republic, the production hired a private security force to help maintain the safety of the set, but their aggressive behavior led to some on-set clashes with the crew, as well as civilians. (According to Masters’s reporting, Dominican soldiers and even local gang members were also employed to supplement security efforts.) The already tense situation when south when a police officer approached one of the security guards sparking a fight that resulted in him being shot and wounded. “It was very scary,” Mann said of the immediate aftermath of the shooting. “What if this guy has six brothers? What if they blamed us? … All these questions rush into your head.”
Filming immediately stopped after violence broke out, and Mann released the cast and crew to their lodgings. Foxx, meanwhile, headed straight for the airport and flew back to the U.S., making it clear he wouldn’t be back. His sudden departure scuttled Mann’s grand plans for the movie’s climax, which would have been shot in Paraguay. Foxx’s defection clearly stung the director, who noted to Masters that his silence on the subject spoke louder than words.
Fortunately, Mann had a backup finale in mind already, one that would shift the story back to Miami. Once again, though, other circumstances intervened. Days before shooting resumed, Hurricane Wilma blew through the city and caused enough damage to demand additional delays and revisions. At the time, Mann maintained that the ending moviegoers saw was the ideal finale. “The Miami ending worked out to be the better ending,” he told Masters. “It brought all the conflicting characters together in one arena.”
In subsequent years, though, Mann has made it clear that he considers Miami Vice to be the movie that got away — in large part because of the hastily revised ending. Speaking with New York magazine on the film’s tenth anniversary, the director described his disappointment with the film in characteristically honest terms. “I don’t know how I feel about it,” he admitted. “I know the ambition behind it, but it didn’t fulfill that ambition for me because we couldn’t shoot the real ending.”
The stars of the movie have been equally circumspect on its legacy. Foxx rarely discusses the movie and has never addressed his choice to leave the set. And Farrell seems eager to leave it in the rearview as well. “I didn’t like it so much — I thought it was style over substance and I accept a good bit of the responsibility,” the actor told Total Film in 2010. “It was never going to be Lethal Weapon, but I think we missed an opportunity to have a friendship that also had some elements of fun.”
Miami Vice finished its theatrical run with just over $60 million in the bank — well behind Collateral. After their three-movie run, Foxx and Mann went their separate ways, with the actor alternating auteur-driven hits like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver with such hit-or-miss commercial fare as White House Down and Project Power. In contrast, Mann has only made two movies in the past fifteen years: 2009’s Public Enemies and 2015’s Blackhat, neither of which made a big impression on critics or audiences.
The cult of Miami Vice, on the other hand, keeps growing. Removed from the outsized expectations of the time, the movie may just be Mann’s definitive masterpiece: a stripped-down, elemental mood piece about identity and trust filled with indelible images and a narrative structure that ingeniously comments on its TV origins. The film begins with Crockett and Tubbs in the middle of one case and ends with that quest unresolved just as another running storyline kicks in. (For the divisive DVD director’s cut, Mann dropped in an extended chase sequence that replaces the original smash-cut opening — a choice that has its fans and detractors.)
It sounds like the director is still going to need some convincing about his own movie’s greatness, though. “People who love it — I’d be really curious to know why they love it,” Mann told New York in 2016. Let’s just say that it’s something in the air tonight.
Miami Vice is currently streaming on Peacock
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