Monday, November 23, 2009

Film Review: MIRACLE MILE (1988, Steve De Jarnatt)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Anthony Edwards (ER, REVENGE OF THE NERDS), Mare Winningham (ST. ELMO'S FIRE, TURNER & HOOCH), Kurt Fuller (GHOSTBUSTERS II, Russell Finely in WAYNE'S WORLD), Eddie Bunker (RESERVOIR DOGS, RUNAWAY TRAIN), Robert DoQui (ROBOCOP, King George the Pimp in COFFY), O-Lan Jones (THE RIGHT STUFF, MARS ATTACKS!), John Agar (NIGHTBREED, CHISUM). Music by Tangerine Dream.
Tag-line: "You just found out that you have 24 hours to live. What are YOU going to do?" Hey, what is this, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure?
Best one-liner: "There's lots of good actors in this town with insomnia and nothing better to do than stupid things like that..."

MIRACLE MILE, directed by Steve de Jarnatt (CHERRY 2000), is an exceptional example of the slow build. Obviously it helps that there's music by Tangerine Dream, whose 80's film work was typified by relentless, dark arpeggios hammering toward cathartic, explosive crescendos. This thunderous, soaring repetition was well-used in these scores: the rising tension as a 'Nam vet seizes Central Park in THE PARK IS MINE!, the mounting supernatural doom in THE KEEP, the countdown to the face-off with the school's biggest bully in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH- and it's perfect for MIRACLE MILE, a film built around the premise of (possibly) impending nuclear holocaust.

A chance phone call leads to a world spiraling out of control, and the result is somehow the exact median between AFTER HOURS (1985) and PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1962). Beautifully photographed by the often misused Dutch cinematographer Theo van de Sande (BODY PARTS, WAYNE'S WORLD), it's full of glossy colors that pop, striking visuals, and disorienting modern edifices: kind of Scorsese by way of Tati.

Anthony Edwards brings the proper sense of bookish urgency, but Mare Winningham just barely pulls off what she has to. There's excellent bit parts by Robert DoQui (COFFY, THE MAN) as an irascible, survivalist diner cook:

and Eddie Bunker (STRAIGHT TIME, RUNAWAY TRAIN) as a crabby nightwatchman (who even gets in an in-joke about his real-life prison time). (Side note: the Bunker role was evidently meant to be played by Jack 'ERASERHEAD' Nance, but he either couldn't or wouldn't get the time off from his own rent-a-cop gig!)

The film doesn't try to get political: we have no idea who, or what, is behind the supposedly imminent attack- instead, our enemy is the whirling, spinning clock; our struggle the one between sheer, sociopathic survival and being hellbent on saving the ones you love. An excellent film, and one that packs an unexpected punch. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

I always assumed that it was the Russkies that sent the nukes after us.

I love this film esp. how, once the action gets going, it is almost shot in real-time, which only adds to the unbelievable tension that De Jarnatt creates.

And the Tangerine Dream score is quite good.

Not a big Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham fan but they are very good in this film and have excellent chemistry together.

Also, didja notice that Denise Crosby's character as Cliff Notes to Thomas Pynchon's GRAVITY'S RAINGBOW? hah. Nice touch.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, I guess it's assumed it would be the Russkies, but the film doesn't rub your face in it, or try to ground itself in the Cold War, per sé, like WarGames or the like. It's very much about the human reactions at the ground level, I was pleased that there were no 'War Room' scenes or expository text.

Did not notice the Gravity's Rainbow Cliff's Notes when I watched it- nice, though.

It's unfortunate that De Jarnatt either didn't choose to or wasn't give the opportunity to further blossom as a director (newer credits include 'Lizzie McGuire' episodes), but it seems that his relationship with Edwards was able to translate into some work (a few 'ER' eps.

Anyway, I was quite impressed with this film and am glad to see that its cult status continues to grow.

Unknown said...

You'd be surprised just how many admirers this film has among film buffs. And, if you look closely the structure of CLOVERFIELD adheres rather closely to MIRACLE MILE. Weird.

It is a shame about De Jarnatt's career. I had hoped that maybe he'd crank out a few more oddball cult films and be the next W.D. Richter but it never happened. Oh well....

skeelo said...

I finally saw Miracle Mile this week. Thanks for the heads up, I had never heard of it before. I was definitely on the floor laughing when I saw the Cliffs Notes to Gravity's Rainbow in the briefcase with the portable phone etc...

Yea talk about slow build, once the panic in the streets gets going I remained impressed, definitely handled well. Low budget done well.

Also, I really liked that diner owner who has a couple of moments (in the diner and in the bus leaving) of pure aggressive hilarity. hahah, anyway, junta juleil 4 lyfe!

Sean Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed it, skeelo!