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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Armitage|
|Produced by||Fred Ward
|Written by||George Armitage|
|Music by||Gary Chang|
|Edited by||Craig McKay|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
Miami Blues is a 1990 American neo-noir black comedy crime film based on the novel of the same name by Charles Willeford. It stars Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It was directed by George Armitage. Ward was also the executive producer.
Frederick Frenger, Jr. (who asks to be called "Junior"), a violent psychopath recently released from a California prison, starts a new life in Miami. Before leaving the airport, he steals luggage and kills a Hare Krishna after breaking his finger.
Junior checks into a hotel and hooks up with Susie Waggoner, a naive prostitute who is a student at a community college. They become romantically involved and take a house together, with Susie blissfully unaware of Junior's criminal activities and harboring fantasies of living happily ever after.
An investigation of the Hare Krishna murder leads grizzled cop Sgt. Hoke Moseley to come knocking on their door. Moseley shares a home-cooked dinner with the couple, upon Susie's suggestion, and plays it cool while seemingly indicating to Junior that he's on to him. He overtly suspects Junior has been in prison and wants him to come to the police station for a lineup. Being a proactive criminal, Junior goes to Moseley's home the next day, assaults him, and steals his gun, badge and dentures.
One interesting scene is when Junior is with Susie and she is busy taking a bath and working on a haiku. He decides to break into a nearby apartment. He steals an IMI Desert Eagle handgun and a steak. As he is doing this, he speaks aloud a haiku of his own, "Breaking entering. The dark and lonely places. Finding a big gun".
Junior begins using the badge, demanding bribes as rewards after breaking up robberies, only to keep the loot for himself. He's highly enjoying his new role as criminal with a badge and the perks it holds for him.
Susie happily cooks for him. While at a grocery store, Junior witnesses an armed robbery and decides to break it up. He lectures the gunman about avoiding a life of crime, but the gunman runs a truck over him. Junior complains to Susie that the "straight life" has made him too soft.
Moseley tracks down the couple through a utility account opened up in Susie's name. He pretends to run into her at the grocery store, where they swap recipes. After she lies that she has left Junior, Moseley tells her that Junior is a murderer and that he and the police are looking for him.
Back home, to test whether he will lie to her, Susie deliberately ruins a pie by adding too much vinegar to it. To her disappointment, Frenger compliments the dessert and eats it with gusto.
The next day, Junior asks Susie to drive him around town on errands. Their first stop is a pawn shop, which he robs. In the course of the robbery, the pawnbroker chops off several of Frenger's fingers before being killed by him.
Badly injured, he limps to the car, but Susie drives away upon realizing what he's done. Moseley pursues him to the house, where he shoots and kills Junior. Junior, being ironic with his last words, tells Moseley, "Susie's gonna get you, Sarge." Susie then arrives and Moseley asks why she stayed with him for so long. She explains that he ate everything she ever cooked and never hit her.
- Alec Baldwin as Frederick J. Frenger Jr.
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Susie Waggoner
- Fred Ward as Sgt. Hoke Moseley
- Charles Napier as Sgt. Bill Henderson
- Nora Dunn as Ellita Sanchez
- Obba Babatundé as Blink Willie
- Jose Perez as Pablo
- Paul Gleason as Sgt. Frank Lackley
The film was the first feature directed by George Armitage in over a decade. He later recalled:
Bill Horberg, who was associate producer, brought the book to Fred [Ward], and Fred said: “Oh, this is great.” I don’t know if Bill had money or not to option the book, but Fred did, and he optioned it. He brought it to Jonathan [Demme] and Gary Goetzman, he wanted Jonathan to direct it. Jonathan had just finished Married to the Mob, which hadn’t been released yet, and he had shot in Miami, and he said to Fred: "Why don't you give it to Din [George Armitage]? Give it to George." And he did, and I loved it. He said “Do you want to write the script and direct it?” I said "Absolutely, let’s go." I had worked for Mike Medavoy, who was now head of Orion Pictures, on Vigilante Force, and he said: "Sure, good." Fred, Jonathan, and Gary—who would go on to produce a number of wonderful things for Tom Hanks’s company, though this was his first film—were amazingly helpful.
Armitage says the script omitted a key plot point in the novel, that the Hare Krishna killed by Fred was Susie's brother. "It took 10 or 15 pages to explain that relationship, and it bothered me—that kind of serendipity. And we were just sitting there talking: “Why do we need to have that anyways?” It really was just a matter of economy. In early drafts it was in. In the novel it works beautifully, because it’s Willeford." At one stage Gene Hackman was going to play Hoke and Fred Ward was to play Junior. Then Hackman dropped out and Alec Baldwin came in to read.
He knocked us out, so I said: “Fred, what do you think?” He said: “He’s Junior. I’ll be Hoke.” And Alec was extraordinary. It rained a lot during the shoot, which would shut us down because you could hear the rain on the roof, it was too loud, so we’d have to wait it out. One day we were sitting around Junior and Susie’s house, and Alec gets behind the camera and does about a five-minute impression of Tak Fujimoto. Then he moves over to the electrical department and does spot-on impressions of all of those guys. Everybody was awestruck. He also did an impression of me that was rather insulting, and very funny. What I wanted to do in that was have the audience go on that ride with Junior while he was running around and playing cop, and to really enjoy it—and the audiences I saw it with did—but then slowly I wanted to take it away from them, so that by the end they would feel a little bit guilty about having so much fun earlier on in the picture. However, it kind of backfired—we did a preview in New Jersey, and the audience was horrified when Junior died, they practically rioted when Alec was killed... Alec had a little problem with that—he wanted to be a little broader, I was afraid he was commenting on the character, but I must tell you: he was right. We didn’t really agree on set, but then he gave me a call [years later]... and said: “Hey, I’m glad you made me do this and that.” I said: “I’m glad you did what you did, too.” It was a little broader than I would’ve asked him to play it, but I really like what he did.
Miami Blues received positive reviews from critics, as it holds a rating of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.
- "Miami Blues". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
- Nick Pinkerton, "Interview with George Armitage", Film Comment 28 April 2015