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Miracle Mile
★★☆☆☆
Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room

When Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets Julie (Mare Winningham) casually strolling around the La Brea Tar Pits, their attraction to each other is immediate. It looks like these two young people are destined to fall in love. Too bad they meet on what turns out to be the last day of civilization (maybe). This odd little romantic apocalyptic thriller takes place over a 24-hour period in and around the titular Los Angeles neighborhood. The tight premise is promising, the two leads have done fine supporting work in previous movies, and writer/director Steve De Jarnatt’s low-budget indie filmmaking captures a palpable sense of impending dread. But the movie is little more than an extended, poorly acted, and absurdly scripted Twilight Zone episode.

Miracle Mile’s road to release is perhaps more interesting than it’s plot. De Jarnatt—primarily a director of episodic TV—was involved in just three feature films: as the initial writer of the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie Strange Brew (1983), as director of the post-apocalyptic Cherry 2000 (1987), and as writer and director of this much discussed but ultimately doomed picture. De Jarnatt wrote the screenplay for Miracle Mile in ’83 when he was fresh out of the American Film Institute, and quickly sold it to Warner Brothers. But the studio, which fancied it as a big budget sci-fi extravaganza, didn’t want to take a chance on a first-time director like De Jarnatt. They tried to interest other directors, but no one jumped. It remained a much buzzed about spec script for years after it was chosen by American Film magazine in ’83 as one of the ten best unmade screenplays. De Jarnatt eventually bought the project back from Warners for far less than they'd paid him for it. H rewrote it as a lower-budget production and the studio then offered to buy it back again for 16 times what he’d just paid them for it. But De Jarnatt turned them down as he was determined to direct it himself. He tried to get it set up at other major studios with stars like Nicolas Cage and Kurt Russell attached. But the script’s odd tone and mix of the romance and disaster-movie genres, which is what made it such a good read, made it seem an unlikely winner at the box-office. Finally, Hemdale Films, flush after their back-to-back Best Picture Oscar winners Platoon (1986) and The Last Emperor (1987) gave De Jarnatt $3.7 million to make the picture. But, to no one’s great surprise, this odd, downbeat little indie bombed at the box office despite some positive reviews from critics. It had a small life on home video but never achieved any kind of cult status, and De Jarnatt returned to TV, never to work in movies again

Many who saw it during its initial release, including myself, remember it fondly, as it does have a terrific late-night neon look courtesy of Dutch cinematographer Theo van de Sande (Zoeken naar Eileen, Crossing Delancey, Rooftops) and a soundtrack from Tangerine Dream (Sorcerer, Risky Business, Near Dark). De Jarnatt seems to be going for a kind of off-kilter, Repo Man vibe but he doesn’t have the cast or abilities as either writer or director to pull off anything close to what Alex Cox achieved in that picture. In fact, Miracle Mile is one of the worst acted movies of the 1980s. Every actor—with the minor exceptions of Mykelti Williamson in a disposable role as a petty thief and crime writer Eddie Bunker as the night watchman of a gas station—comes off laughably bad. Many in the cast—like Robert DoQui, Earl Boen, and Kurt Fuller—are solid character actors, but De Jarnatt’s dialogue is impossible to make credible, and he seems to have instructed everyone to deliver their corny lines as if each word coming out of their mouths is of critical importance. The first act, which establishes the strong feelings between Harry and Julie, relies entirely on bland, descriptive voice-over narration.

In terms of the narrative, there are more logic holes in the 87 min of Miracle Mile than in any ten sci-fi flicks of the ‘80s. Not one action of any single character makes any sense at all. As the preposterousness of each choice adds up, the movie becomes more and more laughable—almost in a so-bad-its-good kind of way. But despite the film’s myriad failings, I can’t give it only one star. This is an entertaining little picture. It’s just difficult to believe a script that was so buzzed about for so many years ended up employing so many hackneyed and logic-defying tropes.

Twitter Capsule:
colorful, potentially haunting low-budget indie with a unique blend of romance and apocalyptic dread, but De Jarnatt spoils the spell he creates with pumped up acting and more logic issues than any ten '80s sci-fi pictures combined.

Directed by Steve De Jarnatt
Produced by John Daly and Derek Gibson

Written by Steve De Jarnatt

With: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Mykelti Williamson, Kelly Jo Minter, Kurt Fuller, Denise Crosby, Robert DoQui, O-Lan Jones, Claude Earl Jones, Alan Rosenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Peter Berg, and Earl Boen

Cinematography: Theo van de Sande
Editing: Stephen Semel and Kathie Weaver
Music: Paul Haslinger and Tangerine Dream

Runtime: 87 min
Release Date: 19 May 1989
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color