Miracle Mile – movie review

Miracle Mile dvd cover

Recently, when discussing Cloverfield, someone said “it reminded me of Miracle Mile.” As it will hopefully become more evident over time, I like to consider myself a bit of a B-Movie aficionado, and yet I had never heard of this film – clearly a gauntlet had been thrown into my midst!

So, here are the facts – it’s a low budget thriller from 1988, starring Anthony Edwards (aka: “oh – the bald guy from ER!”) as Harry – a budding romantic and part time trombone player who, by a quirk of fate, is tardy for a hot date. Consequently, he happens to intercept a panicked phone call claiming an imminent nuclear attack on the US. (Well, who doesn’t?)

Thenceforth, the almost-real-time plot revolves around Harry’s flight from the city, the mishaps and adventures he experiences, and his determination to get the girl before catching a flight to Alaska.

There is a real sense of other-worldliness to the film. Roger Ebert in his review made the keen observation that in many ways “MM” is reminiscent of Scorcese’s “After Hours.” He is (naturally) quite right – both films revolve around a good-natured bumbler who is bounced from one bizarre scenario to the next over the course of one night, purely in the interest of finding his loved one. Both films have a surreal, dream-like quality to them, aided of course by the night time settings and empty streets. Scorcese’s film, however, has always felt unrelentingly menacing to me, despite it’s comedic intentions. The interesting thing about Miracle Mile is that there is such a naivete to Harry that for the bulk of the film, the audience cant genuinely take him seriously.. He even refers to himself as Chicken Little at one point, and the dated, 80’s quirkiness to proceedings does make you wonder if The Wizard is going to jump out from behind the curtain and will reveal all to be a goofy stunt. It seems churlish to concern myself with spoiling the ending of a film which is 20 years old, but I’d recommend you find a copy and find out for yourself.

Whilst the film seems all sweetness and light on the surface, there are numerous little moments that seem to pepper the periphery of the focus, and are signifiers to a far darker reading – rats fall out of a tree at one point, a random couple are seen having sex in the background at another, one character is seen reading a study guide for Gravity’s Rainbow, and so on. Little things that are either blink-or-you’ll-miss-‘em, or just seemingly innoccuous are cleverly woven in, and it’s only later when you’re having a cup of tea and reflecting on the film that you find yourself thinking about them.

The whole concept and execution both feel very much of their time, to an extent that they make the overall experience even more surreal. All the characters in the film sport truly grotesque, garish outfits – Harry our hero is introduced in an electric blue blazer when we first meet him, Julie the love interest has a really nasty mullet that must have looked outdated even in 1988, and she spends most of her screen time in little more than pyjamas and cowboy boots. When Harry later goes into a gym to try and recruit a helicopter pilot (don’t ask!) the lycra on display will have you jumping up and adjusting the contrast on your set!

One other thing that occurred to me whilst watching was how ready to accept their fates people seem in the film – the Reagan-ite 80’s were of course a time of nuclear paranoia, and most characters take little more than a knowing look to believe Harry. I couldn’t help but feel that if a man ran up to you in the street today claiming a nuke was on the way, you’d laugh in his face before continuing to film some happy slapping on your mobile whilst binge drinking with some obese hoodies.

Naturally, in the 21st century, the opposite could be said for a terrorist attack, and this is the metaphor which the makers of Cloverfield have cleverly appropriated for their own film (along with crucial plot devices and whole scenes). I’m not going to waste my breath comparing the two films, but a brisk google search with their names should bring up other people’s detailed analyses.

I did find myself surprised that Miracle Mile’s plot didn’t follow more along the lines of seminal Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but I suppose that is more indicative of its time than it is my natural suspicion and paranoia. That being said, imdb does say that this was originally intended as a segment of the Twilight Zone Movie from the 80’s, and that knowledge suddenly makes the whole feature make a whole lot more sense. Without wanting to digress too much, “The Monsters . . ” was seemingly a very heavy influence on recent Stephen King adaptation “The Mist” – an excellent, bleak horror film that seems to create an instant gulf in audience reception, and another one for your list if you’ve not seen it.

So, I’ve probably written too much already, and should try and get a handle on reasonable durations for these posts, but what the hey, this is my third post and I’m still finding my feet . .

“Miracle Mile” is an intensely powerful film that catches you off guard by initially pretending to be nowhere near as disturbing as it truly is. It appears to have sunk without much of a trace at the time of release, and I can only hope that the Cloverfield allusions might combine with dvd companies’ love of releasing “20th Anniversary Editions” into bringing this unsettling piece of cinema to a wider audience. If you have the chance, I would urge you to find a copy and watch it in the safety of your lead-coated bunker.

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