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.