Mike's Murder [1984]

This film isn't really about Mike (Mark Keyloun), whose fate is revealed by the title, but about Betty (Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman). Mike is the bank teller's blow-dried tennis instructor. They have a bit of a thing for each other. All she knows is that he's cute and that he's a low-level dealer. What she doesn't know is that he's in way over his head. When Mike is murdered, Betty tries to put the pieces together at the same time his drug-addled partner, Pete (Darrell Larson), tries to avoid the same fate. Powerful record producer Phillip (Paul Winfield) helps to fill in the blanks of Mike's mysterious past, but easy answers won't be forthcoming. Revised several times and shelved by the studio until Terms of Endearment re-established Winger's star status, Mike's Murder had a difficult gestation. Despite praise from a few critics, there were others who panned the deliberately paced thriller (some found it confusing, some found it dull), and it was a commercial disappointment. In the decades to come, however, its critical fortunes would slowly begin to turn around. While rarely as compelling as Lawrence Kasdan's steamy Body Heat, which is also set in LA, or Paul Schrader's prickly Light Sleeper, Mike's Murder effectively conjures up a sense of menace. Written and directed by James Bridges (The China Syndrome), Oscar winning composer John Barry (Out of Africa) is behind the moody score, while Night and Day-era Joe Jackson provides a smattering of piano-based pop songs. -- Kathleen C. Fennessy

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