Monday, March 08, 2010

Underrated Movie #50: Miami Blues

Title: Miami Blues
Year: 1990
Director: George Armitage
Writer: George Armitage, based on the novel by Charles Willeford
Stars: Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward

The Story: A rampaging sociopath falls for a giggly prostitute, then steals the badge and gun (and false teeth) of a sad-sack cop. To his great surprise, he discovers that a little bit of legitimacy can be addictive.

How it Came to be Underrated: This didn’t get much of a release because its distributor, Orion Pictures, was going under. It became a cult hit on video, though.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Baldwin was always great, but his problem early on was that he had the soul of a character actor trapped inside the chiseled features of a leading man. Only now that he’s weathered and thickened can he been recognized as one of our best. (I loved it on “30 Rock” when Liz Lemon looked at a real picture of the youthful Baldwin and lamented: “What happened?? Your eyes were so blue!!”) This movie gave him a great early opportunity to let some madness shine through those baby blues.
  2. Fred Ward never got as much work as he deserved, but he had a hell of a great year in 1990: this, Tremors and Henry and June! I hope he didn’t think he’d get a range of roles that lively every year.
  3. Leigh became a little mannered in later years, but she could not be more raw and winning and unaffected here. The easy choice would have been to play her dim-witted role as just a victim, too dumb to see what’s wrong with this guy. She does something far more interesting. They say that when a true sociopath looks at you, their eyes are so direct and intense that you wonder if you’ve ever really looked anyone in the eye before. We see Leigh respond to that energy, even though she knows better.
  4. I don’t know how much Norman Greenbaum charges filmmakers to use his rock anthem “Spirit in the Sky”, but it’s not enough. That song has kicked a lot of movies into high gear, but this is the movie I always I always associate with it.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Willeford wrote a lot of beloved crime paperbacks (including a few more starring Ward’s detective character, Hoke Mosely) but the only other notable movie adaptation was another cult classic, Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter.

How Available Is It?: It’s on a bare-bones, non-anamorphic dvd.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Willeford Also Published Under the Alias W. Franklin Sanders. For Example:

3 comments:

Dan McCoy said...

What? I could have sworn, SWORN, that I had an argument with you because you didn't like this movie.

Matt Bird said...

You're thinking of Armitage's follow-up, which you'll note that I avoided mentioning.

MichaelB said...

Book was much better. The Mosley series were terrific.