Miami Blues [1990]

Alec Baldwin should have had an Oscar nomination for his cunning performance as Frederick J. Frenger Jr., the sleek sociopath and master of quicksilver improvisation who sets the pace for this deceptively breezy crime comedy. Junior's a genius in his fashion, yet not especially bright. In moments of repose, his mouth has a way of falling open slightly, like that of an animal panting in the shade, or Marilyn Monroe thinking. Miami Blues, written and directed by George Armitage, from the novel by Charles Willeford, divides its attention among Junior and two other characters who, in their respective ways, are as eccentric as he: Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a room-service hooker enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College who dreams of acquiring middle-class stability (say, a Burger King franchise); and Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward), a Miami P.D. detective with false choppers who gets on Junior's trail. Junior and Susie set up housekeeping in Coral Gables, and when Hoke catches up to his quarry, he sits down in the couple's newly rented kitchen and joins them in a meal of pork chops and beer. At which point--well, see for yourselves. Jonathan Demme coproduced Miami Blues, and the movie operates as a companion piece to Demme's black-comedy meditation on the elusiveness of contentment in these United States, Something Wild ('86). The three principal actors are all terrific, but it's through Susie--and by all means Jennifer Jason Leigh's complex portrait of this down-to-earth creature--that Miami Blues finally touches a deep, abiding sadness, and the bruised tenaciousness of the American Dream. --Richard T. Jameson

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