Sunday 15 October 2017

On DVD: "Miracle Mile"

One that originally got away - never quite making the quantum leap from VHS to DVD at that pivotal moment in home-entertainment history - 1988's Miracle Mile is another of those B-movies that manages to overcome any number of wobbly performances and gaucheries in its writing and directing because its premise is entirely gripping. Imagine a Twilight Zone episode from the final minutes of the Cold War, or an After Hours played deadly straight: Anthony Edwards, caught in those wilderness years between Top Gun and e.r., is the L.A. everynerd (job at the Natural History Museum, keen trombonist) bracing himself for the night of his life with the girl of his dreams when he picks up a ringing payphone outside the diner where the latter works, and hears a military whistleblower spilling the beans that a pre-emptive nuclear strike is set to obliterate the West Coast within the hour. 

At first, this triggers no more than a ripple of ironies - stepping inside the diner, our boy has to endure the kind of banal, everyday pleasantries you'd probably grow impatient at with fifty-nine minutes left on the clock - yet increasingly it becomes clear that writer-director Steve De Jarnatt (following up the previous year's no less cultish Cherry 2000) intends to twist the fantasy of insider knowledge inside-out. Edwards comes to appear as powerless as everybody else on screen, and - given the levels of carnage his fellow Angelenos rack up as news of potential armageddon leaks out - there's a fair bit of evidence to suggest we'd all frankly be better off not knowing when the big one drops. The phrase the panicked soldier uses over the phone, however, is "locked in", which is exactly the status of everybody on screen and looking on.

Edwards and Mare Winningham, actors who'd got used to playing second fiddle to the Rob Lowes and Demi Moores of this world, make an immediately sympathetic couple who you want to see in a new dawn together, and their movements are intertwined with a Tangerine Dream score that - as with the group's scores for The Keep and Risky Business - converts the action into a compulsive nocturne: you begin to wonder whether somebody's having a nightmare before your very eyes. De Jarnatt himself all but vaporised after this - only trace credits on e.r. and The X-Files remain - but he has a vivid, painterly eye for late 80s L.A. architecture, and fills these streets and buildings with an affecting, quietly chilling sense of mounting desperation and hopelessness: the whole film's like a Hopper canvas where you can hear the sirens and screams getting louder by the second, and there is no easy or obvious way out.

Miracle Mile is released on DVD tomorrow through Arrow Video. 

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