' Cinema Romantico: Miami Blues

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Miami Blues

I don't think Alec Baldwin got the credit he was due. Sure, sure, he's been much lauded in recent years for his hysterically subtle work on "30 Rock" as the fictional President of NBC and even as the writing has suffered massively in the last 2 seasons he is still wringing all he can from that role, but I'm talking about credit in Hollywood. In Ian Parker's profile of Baldwin for the New Yorker - quite possibly the greatest star profile I've ever read - it is made clear that Baldwin's lack of huge success as a cinematic leading man still - and probably always will - frustrate him. This is a real shame because his work in the 1990 film "Miami Blues", which I read somewhere recently, a place which I now cannot recall, was a cult classic, re-proves yet again the significant talent this man has at his disposal.

In George Armitage's film Baldwin is Frederick Frenger, a wily, violent, unremorseful crook fresh from prison who leaves behind California and takes his talents to South Beach (anyone?). His opening moments are unfathomably hysterical as he makes like a more frightening, though just as deadpan, version of Robert Stack in "Airplane!" who upon being accosted by an overeager Hare Krishna at the airport immediately grabs hold of the Krishna's finger, bends it back and breaks it. Unbeknownst to Frenger, the Krishna goes into shock and dies moments later. Such is life. A detective with false teeth and serious paunch, Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward, who also produced), takes the case.

That this is the set-up of "Miami Blues" should speak volumes. It is one of them so-called black comedies, and it is black like central Iowa in the middle of a June afternoon right before the tornado siren sounds. Much of this has to do with the performance of Baldwin, suggesting someone who is mentally off. Way, way off. You always hear people say "He must have been dropped on his head as a kid." Baldwin projects this sentiment in totality. If anyone was dropped on their head as a kid it was Frederick Frenger. Another sentiment you often hear, particularly in relation to actors and actresses, is "Motivation." I sense Baldwin could not have care one single iota less about Frederick Frenger's "Motivation." There are glimpses of backstory but they don't amount to much. No, Frenger is a man of action, and his actions are - in a word - deplorable.

He quickly meets a hooker named Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose mental capacity is approximately the size of a shot glass, and marries her. I mean, sure. Why not? She is so unwitting it is the perfect match. But Moseley turns up since Frenger matches the description of the man who killed the poor Krishna. He stays awhile, eats with them, drinks with them, almost as if he assumes Frenger committed the crime but doesn't really care. Which is what makes so unfortunate when Frenger turns up at Moseley's place to beat to within an inch of his life and abscond with his gun, his teeth and, oh yeah, his badge, allowing for Frenger to morph into a more dastardly version of Jodie Foster's "The Brave One" as he bustles about Miami making phony arrests and then stealing his victims' cash.

He makes no attempts to get out of town and appears quite content to just keep living the good life until he can live it no more, a moment which will inevitably arrive and when it does the black comedy of "Miami Blues", inconceivably, gets even more extreme. Jennifer Jason Leigh's words are so poignant they ascend to hilarious absurdity and Frenger's final words parallel eerily with words he would speak years later on "30 Rock" as Jack Donaghy lay in a hospital bed post heart attack and, hopped up on drugs, declared, "My mouth tastes like purple." Two roles that could not be more different, both expertly played.

In that New Yorker profile Baldwin says at one point: "I don’t think I really have a talent for movie acting." Oh, Alec, I beg to differ.

1 comment:

My Other Brother Daryl said...

Oh man, when you wrote that "Fred Ward" was the cop and director, I was thinking of Fred Willard. I was about to drop everything else in my life and get a copy of this movie.