MIAMI BLUES: An Acquired Taste for Irony.
Written: Jun 13, 2000 (Updated Apr 5, 2001)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Twisted black romantic comedy. Fine performances from Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Cons:It is a dark story, which leaves a chill beneath the humor.
The Bottom Line: MIAMI BLUES is a lovingly put together, different little crime film which informs and entertains while showing us the underside of glitzy Miami, Florida.
Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward and Jennifer Jason Leigh prove in MIAMI BLUES (1990) that they would rather have interesting roles as actors than be Stars.
Alec Balwin (following his megahit THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) is Frederick J. Fringer, Jr., a jaunty appearing, but wound tight, sociopath. Just out of the slammer, all pumped up, he has murdered a Herman Gottlieb in San Francisco for his money, identity, credit cards and clothes. We meet Fringer on a plane for Miami. When he gets off, he steals a woman's suitcase, and in a fit of peak, coming off the escalator, he breaks the hand of an annoying Hare Krishna (Matt Ingersol), who, as the oblivious Fringer hurries on, keels over and dies.
Fred's escape is already in trouble.
What does a handsome jerk, after years in jail, do in a case like that? Of course! He lies low in a Motel and has a hooker sent up. Susan "Suzie" Waggoner, aka "Pepper," (Jennifer Jason Leigh, just off her startling LAST EXIT BROOKLYN, 1989), a young waitress down from Lake Okeechobee, has bad luck with men, and has newly turned to prostitution in hopes of saving enough money to buy a house.
Dazzled by the ebullient Fringer, the trusting Pepper is soon persuaded to give up her body for a red dress. (The scene in which Pepper negotiates the deal and prepares to receive Fred is a matter of fact little masterpiece.) It is not long before he has gotten hold of her bank account. Later, he leases for her a little house in the suburbs. Unaware that he has already resumed his criminal habits, Pepper is in love and hoping to reform Fred. Meanwhile, he is fueling his romance, and his escape, by robbing miscreants with a water pistol, and robbing apartments of things like coin collections.
Fringer is one of those people who sees the world as full of crooks and the undeserving. He has been placed here to see they don't get away with their crimes or their loot. As he explains his prison sentence to Pepper, he was a Robin Hood who robbed from the rich but "I kept the money."
Unfortunately for Fred, Miami Police Detective Hoke Mosley (Fred Ward) traces Pepper through her pimp to the love nest. Hoke has a good deal of fun trading jibes with Fred, drinking beer, eating home cooked pork chops made by Suzie (as she likes to be called). Hoke charms Suzie, taking out his false teeth and promising to give her a down home recipe for chestnut batter. Fred doesn't like this familiarity, nor his fear that Hoke is staking him out. He shadows Hoke back to his apartment, breaks in, beats a drunken Hoke up, steals his Police I.D., pistol and his false teeth.
Fred ascends into to delusions of grandeur, thinking himself a cop. He prevents hookers from carrying on their business, breaks up robberies, shoots crack dealers, acting always under the protection of Hoke's badge.
Hoke himself, an alcoholic problem cop, lies in a toothless stupor in hospital, with a neck brace and a black eye. He has a lot of explaining to Internal Affairs Officer Nora Dunn (Ellita Sanchez). Once on his feet, he pulls himself up and resolves to get back his badge, his gun -- most of all, his false teeth.
Fred's Law and Order charade is greatly hampered when he is maimed and nearly blinded in preventing the robbery of a convenience store. As a result, Suzie learns that he is still robbing and murdering. She gives him one last chance, but when his attempt to sell some coins he stole to Shop Owner Edie Wulgemuth (Shirley Toler) goes wrong, Suzie has had enough. It all leads to a shoot out between Fringer and Mosely, both crippled and half blind.
There is more, but I have revealed enough to let you know that this is film is a counterpart of THE GRIFTERS, which came out the same year, and a black comic equation of a ruthless criminal and a flawed cop.
Alec Baldwin is very good here, young, in superb shape, with a kind of Lee Harvey Oswald demeanor. Fred Ward is perfect as the grizzled, easy going cop. And Jennifer Jason Leigh invests Suzie with a half bright, trusting, practicality that gives the film heart.
Based on a novel by the late Charles Williford (to whom the film is dedicated), MIAMI BLUES was obviously a labor of respect for Writer/Director George Armitage. He did not make another feature film until GROSSE POINT BLANK in 1997, which is reason enough to look out this movie. His direction is marked by a simple, precise attention to details of the Miami scene. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography catches the detail and color just as simply and precisely.
It is a little film, worth taking a chance on.
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