Miami Blues (1990, George Armitage)

Besides an absurd reliance on flip and pan transitions, director Armitage does an often excellent job directing Miami Blues. His script–adapting a novel, so who knows how much is his fault–is a different story. Blues is the story of a charismatic psychopath (Alec Baldwin) fresh from prison who wrecks havoc in the Miami area. The Blues in the title must be for Fred Ward, who plays the unlucky cop who’s trailing him.

Armitage, Baldwin and Ward all play Blues like half a comedy. Ward does the joke well, but Baldwin’s disastrous at it. His performance as a psychopath is so strong, it kills all the humor possibilities. Or maybe Armitage is just an incompetent director and didn’t mean to direct the scenes funny. Though that explanation seems unlikely, especially since the film opens and closes on a smile.

In this strange mix is Jennifer Jason Leigh. While Ward’s good and Baldwin’s problematic (but technically good), Leigh is astoundingly great as the dimwitted hooker who falls for Baldwin. Leigh’s so good, she makes Blues worth a viewing. Had Armitage followed Leigh (or Ward) instead of Baldwin, the film would have been a lot better.

The rest of the supporting cast–no one else has much screen time–is excellent. Nora Dunn and Charles Napier play Ward’s colleagues, Bobo Lewis is great as Baldwin’s landlord and Paul Gleason has a little part.

While Armitage’s best directorial moments come early–and lessen the disappointment of the middling script–Leigh never disappoints.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Armitage; screenplay by Armitage, based on the novel by Charles Willeford; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Jonathan Demme and Gary Goetzman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Junior), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Pepper), Fred Ward (Sgt. Hoke Moseley), Nora Dunn (Ellita Sanchez), Charles Napier (Sgt. Bill Henderson), Shirley Stoler (Edie Wulgemuth), Bobo Lewis (Edna Damrosch), Obba Babatundé (Blink Willie), Gary Howard Klar (Head Bookie), José Pérez (Pablo) and Paul Gleason (Sgt. Frank Lackley).

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