Miracle Mile is an actors’ movie without any great performances. There are affable performances, good performances, (bad performances), but no great performances. Lead Anthony Edwards occasionally tries hard—it’s the end of the world, after all, he’s got to emote—but he’ll frequently hit a wall and start moving his mouth like a Jimmy Stewart impression will be enough.
It’s never enough.
Then at some point, Edwards gives up and lets co-star Mare Winningham do the work. Except Edwards isn’t just the protagonist, he’s also the narrator. And Winningham is his manic pixie dream girl—she’s the first girl thirty-year-old Edwards has ever gone for, as she’s the first girl who shares his big band interest. Edwards is in L.A. playing gigs with his big band. Winningham is a waitress. During the opening titles, they have a solid meet cute at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum. Given how important that location ends up being, it’d have been nice if the movie had spent some time on it instead of summarizing.
Though… as Edwards’s attention-grabbing approach is to hijack a school trip and talk to the kids while their teacher isn’t present and Winningham thinks it’s hot… maybe not.
They have a whirlwind romance—they’re to their third date by the present action, so maybe they cut something—including Edwards meeting Winningham’s grandparents, played by John Agar and Lou Hancock. Agar and Hancock haven’t spoken for fifteen years but live in the same apartment complex. That detail is mainly important to complicate Edwards’s mission and gin up a reasonably nice scene in the late second act.
Edwards is supposed to pick Winningham up after her shift, only he threw away a single-puffed cigarette, and a bird picked it up, brought it up to its rooftop nest on some power lines, set its nest on fire (presumably the bird’s okay), which knocked out the power, which knocked out Edwards’s manual alarm clock, so he naps through meeting Winningham. It’s their third date, so she tells him to get some rest. She’ll have just worked a six-hour shift at an L.A. diner, which seems unfair, energy-wise.
We get some quick scenes of Winningham being sad Edwards didn’t show, and his motel’s phone is out of service—the power outage—so she goes home and takes some Valium and conks out. Edwards wakes up at a quarter to four (in the morning; he was picking her up at midnight) and heads to the diner, expecting her to be waiting for him there.
The film’s a fascinating relic of many eighties-specific flexes, mostly male entitlement, but there’s also a bunch of racism and transphobia. Writer and director De Jarnatt goes out of his way to proclaim he’s not a homophobe, however. But it’s for a sitcom-level “comedy” beat.
In the diner, Edwards meets a variety of early-morning folks who have very little reason to be hanging out at the same diner. Especially when the film establishes they’re regulars. There’s stockbroker Denise Crosby who has the personal numbers of multiple U.S. senators yet likes to spend the opening bell being sexually harassed by Claude Earl Jones. Jones is a street cleaner on a break; Alan Rosenberg is his sidekick. O-Lan Jones is the waitress (who knows Edwards, which also implies cut scenes), and Robert DoQui is the cook. At first, it seems like it’ll be a good part for DoQui. It’s not.
While trying to call Winningham in the phone booth outside the diner, Edwards picks up a wrong number—it’s the end of the world, says the caller. The U.S. is firing the nukes; they’ll hit Russia in fifty minutes. The Soviet response will arrive in seventy. So Edwards tells the diner, causing a stir, which becomes a panic once Crosby can’t get ahold of her politician friends because they’re already headed to Antarctica.
The film’s initially Edwards’s quest to get to Winningham, but then becomes their quest to get to the airport and onto a flight to “safety.” Along the way, Edwards meets a handful of interesting characters. First, it’s Mykelti Williamson, one of the film’s few Black characters with lines. He sells stolen goods, of course, but at least he loves his sister, Kelly Jo Minter, enough not to let her get nuked. Minter’s not in it enough. Williamson’s better than the part deserves. Then we don’t meet anyone for a while because Edwards’ quest to get Winningham from her apartment doesn’t have many obstacles once he’s going.
Later, he meets Kurt Fuller—as a whacked-out yuppie who doesn’t believe the nuke hype—and powerlifter Brian Thompson. Thompson probably comes into Mile in the last twenty minutes and has maybe two minutes of screen time, but stands out. Both because he’s good, and De Jarnatt saddles him with a bunch.
Along the way, Mile has its ups and downs. De Jarnatt’s script only commits to six-minute subplot arcs, which keeps the movie busy without ever being full. Characters recur, but similarly without any significant arcs. Even when there’s something seemingly salient, its import evaporates. Both in De Jarnatt’s script and the performances.
Technically, the film’s low middling. De Jarnatt’s composition sometimes deserves better than cinematographer Theo van de Sande’s lighting; sometimes not. The Tangerine Dream score initially seems like it might bring something to the picture. It does not.
Both Edwards and Winningham are sufficiently sympathetic considering the circumstances, so Mile does stay engaging. It’s just way too obviously got De Jarnatt’s hand spinning the wheel to keep it going.
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