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  Miami Blues A Life Of Crime
Year: 1990
Director: George Armitage
Stars: Fred Ward, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nora Dunn, Charles Napier, José Pérez, Obba Babatundé, Shirley Stoler, Bobo Lewis, Paul Gleason, Roy Datz, Martine Beswick, Vic Hunter, Gary Howard Klar, Patrick Cherry, Lou Garr, Joe Hess, Edward Saxon
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Junior (Alec Baldwin) arrives in Miami, he is travelling under a false name, having liberated the wallet of one of his victims shortly before boarding his flight. Once in the airport, he surreptitiously looks around for a suitcase to steal, finds one, and heads off down the escalator where he is accosted by a Hare Krishna follower wanting to convert him; when asked his name, he replies "Trouble", sharply breaks the man's finger and leaves him to die of shock on the ground as he makes for the nearest hotel. But that act of violence alerts the cops...

One cop in particular, being Sergeant Hoke Moseley, played by Fred Ward who also served as a producer here, and a character who would be familiar to the fans of the novels of Charles Willeford, from whose work Miami Blues was taken. The jury was pretty much still out at the time this was released whether adapter and director George Armitage has successfuly captured the particular spirit of the source, and would probably be the cause of more debate if this was anywhere near a high profile work, but as it was its essential reluctance to settle for any style, wavering between pitch black comedy, bruised romance and outright brutality meant an audience was always going to be a tricky propostition to find.

Which naturally were precisely the type of difficult to pigeonhole conditions which made for cult movies, and over the years Miami Blues has certainly built a following of crime flick aficionados who appreciated its idiosyncrasies, although there were undoubtedly just as many turned off by the same things. What was not in doubt was the trio of stars taking the leads were operating at the respective heights of their abilities, with Ward embodying the world-weary cop as if born to play the kind of lawman who not only gets his badge and gun stolen, but his false teeth as well. Similarly, Baldwin was utterly convincing as a near-psychopathic thief who thinks little of turning to murder if it means getting his own way.

Those two rivals were joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Susie, a hooker who Junior sends up to his hotel room and somehow manages to make a connection with him, though probably more down to his seeking to exploit everyone he meets as far as he can. Yet while that is what he's doing with Susie, there's a curious, almost unconscious part of Junior's personality which lets slip to the audience that a settled life is what he wants, no matter that when he goes out to work and provide for his "wife" he is a one-man crime spree. Not that he's alone, as once he gets out onto the streets it seems that Miami is in the grip of a massive amount of petty crime and corruption.

All the more opportunity for Junior to take what he can get from the criminals, of course. As he and Susie indulge in their parody of married suburban life, Hoke is determined to track them down thanks to Junior being the man who stole from him, and humiliated him at work, though he continues to have a friend in Sergeant Henderson, played by Charles Napier in a manner that suggests he could have just as easily taken Ward's role - their scene at the first murder is a small masterwork of dark humour. This was Armitage's first film as director for over ten years, and before that he was working for Roger Corman, but the off-kilter tone he conjured up with this had many movie buffs wishing he'd done a lot more behind the camera during a career best described as sparse but not inconsiderable, in cult circles at least. If there's one big flaw it's that he never convinced us he was able to get inside Junior's head, the villain remains an enigma to the end, but judging by the story's playing around with lies and truths, that actually suits the result. Music by Gary Chang.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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