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Entries in Miracle Mile [1988] (1)

Wednesday
Aug242011

Miracle Mile (1988)

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Years from now, I imagine people will ask each other, "Where were you when Steve Jobs retired from Apple for the second time?"

My answer will be, "Writing about a terrible nuclear-holocaust movie."

It hurts to write those words. When I first saw Miracle Mile at age thirteen, I thought it was a harrowing triumph of acting and tense direction. This was during my "white lights, no cities" phase, when I obsessed over any movie that featured bombs dropping. From The Day After to By Dawn's Early Light to this film, I couldn't get enough of barren, nightmare landscapes and the dregs of humanity clawing each others' eyes out to survive.

The problem with watching movies as a kid is that children have no perspective. Had I seen the Star Wars prequels at the right age, I might have regarded them as highly as I do the Holy Trilogy today because I didn't have the breadth of knowledge or ability to recognize imperfections that I do now. Same thing with Miracle Mile: I used to love Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham as doomed young lovers trying to make their way out of Los Angeles during World War III. I still love the concept, but having just watched the movie again for the first time in twenty years, I can barely see past the corniness and desperation in writer/director Steve De Jarnatt's screenplay.

The film opens with Harry (Edwards) narrating a montage of his first encounter with Julie (Winningham), whom he follows around a museum all day. They meet, fall in like, and have three dates, which we don't see. One evening, they make plans to go out after Julie's late shift at a local diner. Harry oversleeps and rushes to meet Julie anyway (yes, Harry's the kind of self-involved dork who assumes girls just wait around for hours on end, in the hopes that the guys who stood them up will eventually show).

After getting Julie's number from another waitress , Harry calls her apartment from a pay phone and leaves a message (wait: after three dates, they still haven't exchanged numbers? Jesus, never mind...). Moments later, the phone rings and Harry answers. On the other end is a panicked young man who screams about launch codes and impact timelines. He'd dialed the wrong area code when trying to reach his dad, and ended up giving a complete stranger the best/worse piece of insider information in history.

Harry stumbles back into the diner and recounts his story to a cast of Wacky, 3am Angelinos, including the sassy waitress, nervous stewardess, sexist sanitation workers, and a wealthy stock broker played by Denise Crosby. After a few minutes of talking into the brick-sized cell phone she carries in her totally wired briefcase, she confirms the nuke story and announces that she's just chartered a helicopter to take the entire group to a cargo plane bound for Antarctica.

Instead of following this amazing crew to the coldest regions of the planet and watching them fall apart like a late-80s version of Lost, we're sidelined by Harry's real-time quest to find Julie and get her to safety. Because this happens in real-time, much of the adventure is confined to about two city blocks. The couple reunites and says goodbye to Julie's squabbling, old parents before heading to the helipad on top of an insurance company's headquarters. There, they meet two stoned Yuppies and a pair of machine-gun-toting lesbians, all of whom are in the process of Tetris-ing a Wal-Mart into what looks like a model helicopter--only one snag: none of them knows how to fly.

Harry leaves Julie on top of the building and sets out to find a pilot. He has amazing success, breaking up a pre-dawn aerobics class by waving a gun around; a gym patron agrees to help, as long as he can bring his boyfriend. On the way back to the rendezvous, Harry sees Julie running down the street and--

Aw, hell, we're almost at the end of the movie.

The one positive thing I can say about Miracle Mile is that it doesn't shy away from the Total Destruction ending that its genre dictates. But even this is problematic, since Harry begins the film by telling us this touching story about a great girl he met. When does he do this? After he dies? Is Harry a ghost? If so, why don't he and Julie tell their story together? Do they not end up in the same place?

These questions are both more entertaining and less ridiculous than the events of the movie. I can't convey how silly and over-acted this thing is. You can play several fun rounds of "Before They Were Famous" by spotting actors like Mykelti Williamson and Kurt Fuller, but I'd advise you to mute the TV first. No one escapes this picture with their dignity intact.

Okay, Tangerine Dream isn't mortally wounded. Their score is a slightly hipper version of the music they did for Risky Business. And I love that movie, so I'll project some good will onto this project.

Imagine a cast of solid actors hamming it up for ninety minutes before being blown to smithereens (and maybe drowning in the La Brea Tar Pits), and you've got the skeleton of Miracle Mile. The muscle is comprised of a cheesy romance written with the passion and life experience of a cloistered nun and bursts of spectacular Serious Acting that I guarantee will make you cover your mouth and/or eyes.

The lesson here is this: the next time a thirteen-year-old raves to you about how awesome a new movie is, throw them a look that suggests things could get violent. For best results, do this while yelling, "You don't now shit!".

They'll thank you later.