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Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision. Curiously, in the film, Baldwin and Leigh exchange dialogue about her haikus, but for no apparent reason.

In actual fact, Leigh is almost exactly the character one imagines the book’s Susan to be. She’s simultaneously eager to please and naive, and one believes her when she moves in with and cooks her perfect cuisine for the guy who “didn’t beat her in the hotel”.

Baldwin, though, seems a little too good-looking and far too refined in his mannerisms for his character to be the same one as in the book. Likewise, Fred Ward is a bit too good-humoured, too happy-go-lucky, to evoke Willeford’s Moseley.

On the plus side, though, the combination of Armitage and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto produces some extraordinary colour images while the film generally cracks along at a good pace when not concentrating on Baldwin and Leigh’s home life. Just in terms of sheer presence and interaction, all three leads are a pleasure to watch; Baldwin, in particular, seems to have a lot more room to manoeuvre than in The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990) which should help his career no end.

However, Willeford fans may well feel the film lacks many of the seamier and more compelling ingredients found in the book.

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022.

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