Miami Blues

I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of this one. It’s a weird crime movie starring Fred Ward as a cop with fake teeth, Alec Baldwin as a crook who steals his teeth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Baldwin’s dumb hooker turned naive fiancee.

From the cover you’d assume this is just some boring cop movie, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s something completely unique. Or don’t take my word for it. Let me explain to you a little bit about the plot, and see if that waxes your mustache.

See, Alec Baldwin (back when he was young and skinny, and made the gals swoon) gets off a plane in Miami, steals somebody’s luggage, and heads for the exit. At the bottom of an escalator he is approached by a hare krishna, who asks him what his name is. He says, “Trouble,” breaks the guy’s finger, and leaves.

Miami BluesSo far he’s a petty crook, and kind of an asshole. Or maybe hare krishnas killed his father, I don’t know. The point is, breaking a guy’s finger for trying to push his religious beliefs on you is not usually a big enough crime to be the center of a movie plot. But we find out later that being a sensitive peace loving religious dude, the hare krishna went into shock after the attack and died. Of a broken finger. And maybe a broken heart. So that’s where Fred Ward, the homicide detective, comes in. He’s gotta find the perp, and even he doesn’t take it that seriously (him and the other cops laugh about the murder) but it’s a job, you know.

He doesn’t have much trouble tracking down Baldwin, but soon after he does he gets beaten up and wakes up without his teeth, gun or badge. And Alec Baldwin starts going around using the badge, pretending he’s cop. Committing crimes mostly against other criminals. But he’s not exactly Robin Hood. First of all, as he explains, he doesn’t give the money to the poor. He keeps it. And second of all, he does things like stop a guy from stealing a woman’s purse, then run off with the purse himself. Or stop an armed robbery, then take the money himself. In one of the best scenes he happens to be in a convenience store as it’s robbed, and he scares off the nervous gunman by threatening to throw a jar of spaghetti sauce at him. It makes no logical sense at all, and that’s why it’s convincing. I could see it really happening. You know that kid went through that robbery a thousand times in his head, thinking of all the possible outcomes, but one he never considered was some weirdo throwing Prego at him. So it threw him off.

So you know, this Alec Baldwin isn’t all bad, he’s a semi-likeable dude. But he’s using Fred Ward’s identity, and he has his teeth, so that makes it personal.

The goofy tone of the movie reminds me alot of Elmore Leonard, but the book it’s based on is actually by somebody named Charles Willeford. (Apparently there are 3 other novels about Fred Ward’s character, Hoke Moseley.) It is not a traditional thriller at all – it’s more about the personalities of the characters than some sort of serious plot, and everything comes out of the stupid or weird choices they make. The overall feel is lighthearted but it is punctuated by some brutal violence – in a fun way. Alec Baldwin receives some pretty horrible/hilarious injuries and deals with them more the way you or I would than the indestructible super heroes we get used to seeing in movies.

The lead actors are all great. Maybe I’m stupid, but I didn’t even realize that was Jennifer Jason Leigh as the naive Florida girl studying at Miami-Dade College. And it’s good to see Alec Baldwin getting a chance to play stupid and funny, something he usually only does when he hosts the Saturday Night Live show. My only real complaint is that it’s not believable how many crimes this guy happens to be in the vicinity of. It’s not like he’s out looking for crimes, but somehow he just happens upon purse snatchings and armed robberies everywhere he goes. If only Batman was that lucky.

The director is George Armitage, who is best known for Grosse Pointe Blank. He also did the second, supposedly not as bad (but still bad) version of Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce. He seems like a pretty interesting director, but most of his other stuff isn’t on video. The one I’d really like to see Vigilante Force with Kris Kristofferson.

So anyway point is Miami Blues is a good one, a different one, a one you should see.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 10th, 2004 at 6:17 pm and is filed under Crime, Drama, Reviews, Romance, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “Miami Blues”

  1. Glad you got Miami Blues here. This is truly great stuff, this is badass-cinema. Baldwin is unpredictable and mean in his maniacrole. Fred Ward is great shape as a stupid cop, check him out on Remo Williams-movie, that’s a great gem from eighties. Miami Blues is Tarantino before Tarantino, dark comedy elements in this reminds so much of his works.

  2. Aw man, I used to love this movie. The injury Baldwin had towards the end made both me and my father wince and chuckle at the same time.

    Nice little touches too, like Fred Ward soaking his teeth in whiskey overnight.

  3. I just caught this review for the first time. I have fond memories of this from the early 90s. I was always attracted to pictures like this, probably due to having seen stuff like To LIve and Die in L.A. in my youth.

    Speaking of Fred Ward – loved him in Cast a Deadly Spell, an HBO movie in which he plays a P.I. named Harry Lovecraft and he gets involved in Lovecraftian goings-on with David Warner.

  4. World Eater— I hear ya, bro. I saw Miami Blues in its initial theatrical run, and fuckin’ loved it. Baldwin as Junior Frenger was maybe the (unintentionally?) goofiest portrayal of a sociopath/criminal ever put on film. Funny how it doubled with the same year he played Jack Ryan in The Hunt For Red October.

    Still… it didn’t quite work out for him as the Next Great Leading Man, maybe even Brando Redux for the 1990s. Instead, he licked Kim Basinger’s pussy for the next decade, fell & rose, became a stellar character actor, and discovered his hidden forte treasure as a comedic actor. Way to go, Alec.

    But his comedy skills all started with Miami Blues, especially courtesy of that scene where he’s sitting on the bed, counting money, and launches into that impromptu (best ever) Tony Montana impersonation (now firmly an homage):

    “How much for the speedboat?”.

    “Dee schpeedboat esh VEEERRRY expensive… Feefty thousand dollars!”.

    “Wrap it up, man”.

    Incidental then… classic now.

  5. Jennifer Jason Leigh is really, really hot in this movie

  6. and how’s this for a slice of Freudian, she also looks a lot like my mom did in the 80’s (short hair and stuff)

  7. Baldwin was like a mad dog in this one. I don’t think his charisma has been used this well since Miami.

    Seeing movies like this growing up kinda spoiled me for generic lazy-arse ones with no originality. I also like the dark humour. The scene where Fred Ward as the cop is chatting to Junior, who’s got one arm feeding himself his dinner and the other arm guarding his plate, and Fred calls him out by asking where he did his time, suggesting that he learned that in prison. Fucking funny.

    And what is it with JJ Leigh ALWAYS playing a whore(Miami, Last Exit To Brooklyn, Machinist), or a fucked-up unit(Single White Female, Flesh and Blood, In The Cut, Palindromes)? I’m not complaining, I think she’s great, I just wonder what she’s been through in her own life to be drawn to these characters. To me she is a highly memorable actress.

  8. I’m not meaning to speculate on what she went through, but losing your father in such a spectacularly controversial way would probably put a damper on my life too.

  9. Great and lengthy interview with Armitage courtesy of Film Comment/Nick Pinkerton: http://filmcomment.com/entry/interview-george-armitage?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=commentMay12015&utm_content=version_A

    Really makes me want to check out some of his earlier stuff (VIGILANTE FORCE and HIT MAN in particular), and the unreleased director’s cut of THE BIG BOUNCE sounds interesting. Well worth reading!

  10. MIAMI BLUES just came out on blu-ray, by the way. I picked it up but haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. But if it has the movie MIAMI BLUES on it I think I’ll be happy.

    Anybody know if that Scott Frank HOKE pilot ever leaked out anywhere? I would love to see that.

  11. Vern, Onion AV Club from last summer says that HOKE wasn’t picked up: http://www.avclub.com/article/paul-giamattis-fx-pilot-not-going-series-205648

    But this reminded me how great Fred Ward was in the 90s and wanting to know if he still looks that good. He does, apparently:http://www.wired.com/2014/11/oral-history-of-right-stuff/
    Interesting piece on The Right Stuff too

  12. Doh, rereading your comment I can see you knew that about HOKE alreadz.

    I know no more.

  13. Was hoping the HOKE pilot would find it’s way to the MIAMI BLUES BD, but no such luck. Armitage’s comments on the show was interesting – apparently they had the rights to the 3 subsequent books, but not BLUES. Would have loved to see the further Moseley stories make it to the screen. SIDESWIPE, in particular, is a fantastic book.

    Exchange rates are putting a damper on US imports right now, but I’ll probably pick up the new disc eventually. Although I do kind of hope a European boutique label picks it up in the meantime. And include the pilot.

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