Movie Review : Miami Blues (1990)
Miami Blues is a largely forgotten cop movie from the nineties. The only reason why we're still talking about it today is that it's an adaptation from Charles Willeford's novel of the same name and that novel happens to be pretty great. Normally, movie adaptations carry a novel's legacy and not the opposite, but Hollywood will occasionally fuck it up. They're never as good as the novel, but they competently reveal the work to mainstream audiences, who wouldn't have discovered it otherwise. Miami Blues is not one of these competent gospel preachers, though. It's somewhat of a mess.
If you're not familiar with the Charles Willeford novel, know that Miami Blues is the story of Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin), a wild Californian psychopath who traveled to Florida on a stolen credit card to start anew after a prison term. His plans are immediately screwed after he lands in Miami and breaks a begging Hare Krishna (Edward Saxon)'s finger. The guy slumps down and dies right there, from shock. Hard-living old school homicide detective Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward) inherits the case and these two are just a bad match together. They're just flawed and stupid enough to make one another miserable.
This movie adaptation made many changes to the original story and not for the better. Susan (played to absolute perfection by Jennifer Jason Leigh), the prostitute turned Freddy's semi-captive housewife, was his victim's sister and a swindler of her own. In the novel, she constantly hesitates between trusting Freddy or to go on with her own plans, but not here and it handicaps both rhythm and tension. Half of the story is domestic scenes between Freddy and Susan and these scenes lose interest without the underlying tension that pulls them apart, despite the terrific performances by Baldwin and Leigh.
Baldwin and Leigh look like they were born to play these parts. As you can infer from the movie post, Miami Blues climaxes with Freddy stealing Hoke's gun, badge and handcuffs and going on a rampage around town, playing cop. These scenes are wacky, colorful and adorably dated. Miami Blues is not a beautiful movie , it's content with looking the most over-the-top Miami-ish possible most of the time, but Alec Baldwin zips through the scenery and wreaks havoc like one of these apocalyptic muscle cars in Mad Max and lits his scenes on fire. They could've used better comedic timing from director George Armitage, but Baldwin does enough to make them fun and intriguing.
If Miami Blues is such a mixed bag, it can be explained by several factors, but mostly by Fred Ward being one of the executive producers. He paid for the novel option, which allowed him to have free reign over the movie. That notably lead to him playing Hoke Moseley (he's not good) and choosing ill-fitting George Armitage for director. Miami Blues is fondly remembered by the 22 people who do remember seeing it, but it's impossible to be onboard with it if you have read the novel. It's a definite step down in charm, complexity and tension. It definitely isn't anything to remember Charles Willeford by. Stick to the novel for that.