Miami Blues (1990)

“The first thing they should have taught you in your hooker classes is you shouldn’t ask the client so many fucking personal questions.”

The film Miami Blues is based on the noir novel from Charles Willeford, and if you are at all familiar with Willeford then you know that this author has a legion of fans (including me) and–to put it mildly–his hardboiled books are a bit quirky. This quirkiness seeps through in the 1990 film Miami Blues, one of Willeford’s novels that features Miami detective Hoke Moseley.

Miami Blues begins with Fred Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin) taking a plane from San Francisco to Miami. This is a fresh start for Frenger, who calls himself Junior, and the fresh start involves stealing the identity, the ticket and the jacket of another passenger. Once Junior arrives in Miami, he creates a one-man crime spree beginning at the airport.

Along the way, he picks up simple-minded hooker, Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose professional name is Pepper. Although she attends Miami-Dade Community College, she sticks to Junior like Velcro. The two set up house in a warped Betty-Crocker-white-picket-fence fantasy, but of course, this middle-class lifestyle has to be funded by Junior’s continuing crime spree.

Most of the film’s fun comes from the character of Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward)–a Miami cop whose false teeth don’t fit properly, and that’s probably due to the fact that he was too cheap to go to a dentist and had these false choppers made by a police forensic lab. A game of cat and mouse ensues between Junior and Moseley, and somehow Susie gets in the middle. There are so many ironies here–Moseley basically lives in one room in a resident’s hotel. His life is pathetically bare, and here’s Junior with a much better lifestyle and a devoted little housewife to boot. The unspoken implication is that Junior has assets (namely Susie) that Hoke would give his right arm to possess, and while on some level Junior realizes he has to steal and murder to propagate this fabricated lifestyle, on another level he doesn’t truly appreciate what he has.

The three main characters in Miami Blues elevate this film out of the norm. They are all perverse–all atypical. But Hoke Moseley steals the film as he is meant to. If you enjoy this film, I also recommend The Woman Chaser–another adaptation of a wonderfully bizarre, peculiar Willeford novel.

From director George Armitage

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