Miami Blues is neo-noir done light, Miami-style. In the Magic City, Fred Ward is the hard-boiled Sergeant Hoke Moseley (other possible character names suggested: Poke Noseley, Joke Slowsley, and Broke Mosteley) is not our anti-hero but instead it is Frederick J. Frenger Junior, a less puffy Alec Baldwin as the charming con-man. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Susie Waggoner (other possible character names included: Betty Redneck, Delilah Milkmaid and Annabelle Crawdaddy), starring as the unerotic prostitute that Junior procures upon arrival in Miami and subsequently pairs up with for the rest of the film.
The story follows Junior’s escapades through a bright and shiny 1990s Miami, fresh off the influx of 1980s cocaine money, as he gleefully ekes out a life for himself and Susie via his job in “investments.” Junior is hunted by Moseley because he killed a Hare Krishna at the Miami airport (other possible airport personalities considered for murder: Idaho Senator, bachelor party on its way to Vegas, family returning from Disney World).
Moseley tracks down Junior and is invited to stay for a steak dinner by Susie. Moseley and Junior kill what looks like an entire case of Poehler beer and when the beer is gone Moseley leaves, indicating the true reason for his visit on the way out, being that Junior is the suspect in his murder case. Moseley does this all Columbo-stylie except way shittier. He tries the “smacks head in mock exasperation while turning around with finger pointed toward sky during big reveal” but does it without either rolling a glass eye or taking Junior into custody.
So, thanks to his unconventionally quirky detective tactics Moseley gets his ass handed to him the next day by Junior. Junior tracks Moseley down at his appropriately ratty, disenfranchised policeman’s apartment and makes quick work of kicking his ass and relieving him of his gun, his money, his [sight gag] dentures and his badge.
After obtaining Moseley’s badge Junior uses it to intercept crimes in progress. Junior disrupts a stick-up, a furniture store heist and a purse snatcher by seeming chance encounters. He flashes his badge, scaring off the thieves and then grabs the spoils for himself.
Moseley is actually injured pretty seriously by Junior, which gives Charles Napier the chance to make an appearance as Sergeant Bill Henderson. Henderson visits Moseley in the hospital and spends most of his time contemplating his massive jaw.
Leigh maintains her significance in the film by acting as the naïve and genteel rural counterpart to Baldwin’s conniving and brash hustler. Early on, the writers drop the prostitute story line and work the “pro with a heart of gold” angle. Susie expresses interest in white picket fences, cooking dinner and raising children. Junior seems agreeable with his wife’s wishes for the most part but when kids are mentioned erupts in a bizarre outburst saying, “11 or 12 -year-olds never answer the phone! They always need their asses straightened out and are thoughtless little pigs. I’m sure that any hypothetical children named after countries we may have would humiliate me.” He goes on to mumble about how much the first Batman sucked and wanders out of the room. Luckily, Susie’s character is written to only be ecstatic or troubled so she works her one angle and the scene is over. Other character types considered to balance Junior: Stepford wife, Kenneth Parcell, kitten with a broken leg.
Where some directors might delicately paint the intricacies of a personality like Junior’s; a professional crook who voluntarily takes on an ignorant accomplice in Susie and builds an approximation of a suburban life with her, all the while still pursuing a violent and illegal vocation, director George Armitage instead slaps a coat of high-gloss slapstick on it and calls it good. Baldwin bops around town in his pink plaid pants, yellow sweaters and white shoes, constantly evading Moseley, who pursues him like an inept Magilla Gorilla. Towards the end of the movie Moseley even peels a banana and eats it.
And Armitage was a bit lazy on the writing front. For instance, many of Junior’s lines read like grandpa humor:
Hare Krishna: “What’s your name?”
What is this, a Steven Seagal movie? I expect more martial arts and drug rings, then.
Speaking of which, drugs are glaringly absent from a movie that takes place in Miami and involves down-and-out cops, a con man, a prostitute and anyone that lives in Miami. Come on, Miami is The City that Blow Built and the only reason any interesting architecture existed in 1990s Miami for Armitage to film was because of drugs.
Granted, I can’t complain about everything. It is difficult for me to bust Junior’s balls. He takes his shirt off to eat his steak, as every real man should. Three of his fingers are hacked off by a machete-wielding pawn shop owner and he still manages to make it home and pour himself two fingers (knuckles?) of straight gin. He recites original haikus while burglarizing apartments, such as, “Breaking entering/The dark and lonely places/Finding a big gun.” Plus, he’s got a bitchin’ tiger tattoo on his bicep.
Armitage attempts to create a violently whimsical ode to both Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice while also borrowing from older detective crime story tropes. Hence, Miami Blues. There goes Armitage again, slopping it all together.
– Rental Rehab review written by Kelli