It’s extraordinarily uncommon for me to turn off a movie and not know how I feel about it. Even when I turn to the person sitting next to me and go “huh!” usually there’s a tinge of intonation that sways one way or the other so the only ambiguity is what I did or didn’t dislike about the experience. “Miracle Mile” has me scouring the internet for reviews trying to step into t he shoes of people who liked it to understand what’s wrong with their brains to make them feel that way, yet at the same time I can’t bring myself to feel any sort of way for it other than baffled. This movie exists. This phrase is a total cop-out, I know. People tend to say this when they don’t want to confront the movie at all or feel frustrated by it or bored or confused; I think I’m the latter. This movie thought it was saying something and it didn’t. It’s like trying to make filet minion out of a Lunchable: you don’t have the ingredients. It was never going to coalesce and so the end result is the most jumbled tonal mish-mash I’ve ever seen.
Our hero is a pretty typical late 80’s guy named Harry (Anthony Edwards). You probably recognize Edwards as one of the nerds from “Revenge of the Nerds”. You will not recognize him in this get up as “Goose” from “Top Gun”.
Our heroine is Julie (Mare Winningham) who I guess did something to piss off the hairdresser because they cursed her with what can only be described as a mullet. Time has not looked back fondly upon this haircut. Harry only squeaks by without being heckled by me, the cruel audience, because he is extremely unremarkable in every conceivable way.
I don’t think the narrative realizes that Harry and Julie are the most annoying people on planet Earth. Over the course of like 3 hours at the La Brea Tar Pits (which, I’m not sure if you know this, smell like absolute shit due to being full of dead garbage), they madly in love with each other, as seen through some scenes where they flirt obnoxiously by quipping jokes about fossils to other people’s children (?). Their weird scenes being so heavily focused around children lead me to believe that Harry was a museum employee and she was a teacher on a field trip, but no, he’s a trombone player and she’s a waitress. There’s absolutely no reason for these two to be talking to random stranger’s kids and using them as means by which they demonstrate how cute they are to each other. It gave me the same weird douche chills I used to get watching people become twin flame soulmates via public forum chatrooms just by posting rapidly back and forth at each other back in 2008.
Harry is literally, immediately introduced to Julie’s family which is apparently composed entirely of her grandparents who haven’t spoken to each other in 15 years. The scene in which we meet them is about 30 seconds long and exists only to introduce this plot point which never really amounts to anything and its inclusion only makes the day-long courtship feel like it’s been going on for much, much longer. The scale of time in this movie prior to the phone call the kicks off the actual plot is completely incomprehensible. Is it intentional? Are we supposed to feel like they’ve known each other forever even though it’s been like 6 hours? After the phone call, the movie proceeds in real time, which is legitimately interesting and works pretty well. But everything before that feels like it takes place out of time.
They agree to meet for a date, but a bird with a cigarette burns the power lines to Harry’s hotel room (??) so he wakes up 3 hours late. He rushes to the diner they were supposed to meet at in the hopes that Julie will return if he makes enough desperate calls from the pay phone outside (but she’s completely zonked out from a Valium, she’s not on this planet). One thing about this scene that’s totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of the plot is that in order to indicate how late he’s slept, the TV is blaring the national anthem and playing that filler they used to play late at night. Remember when TV used to end?? There was a point during the day where there was no more TV. Never mind I don’t care about this anymore. Harry just hit a palm tree and like 5 rats fell out of it onto his car. I only care about this now.
The movie now does something terrible, which is that it really, truly believes that it is a strong character driven story and thus introduces a plethora of characters all at once, all of which are either cliche (the crazy homeless man, the career driven 80’s business woman) or exaggerated caricatures of people we might know in real life but exacerbated to such a degree that it feels like Harry is ordering food from the comfort of a diner in Toontown and not L. A. It is odd that the movie bothers to introduce these characters and flesh them out to what little degree it does and then toss them away after the diner scene entirely. I had thought they would return at some point, as narratives typically work that way, but I think this movie is under some delusion that its operating from some basis in reality and in real life these people would enter your life briefly and leave forever because that’s how life works. But this is a movie in which a cigarette smoking bird causes a power outage.
Harry calls Julie and instead of getting a call back from her, the voice on the other end of the payphone is a panic-stricken young man in a missile silo babbling about how nuclear war is on our doorstep. Kid’s got the wrong number; this was supposed to be for his dad. I had the pause the movie here though because the voice on the phone sounded REALLY familiar and I had to look into it. Well, lo-and-behold. Who could it be but Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic’s Carth Onasi!
It is vital that you see this.
After a family death, I got extremely into Star Wars media as some sort of shockingly unhelpful coping mechanism and this ugly motherfucker was the guy Bioware inexplicably decided was what girls of the early 2000s wanted to slurp on. With his late-80’s Dicaprio hair fringes and clothes that make him look like an anthropomorphized peach pit, playing as a female character in a game has never been so much of a detriment to a game play experience. Hearing his nasally voice wafting out from the phone socked me right in the mouth. I’ve never been so blindsided by a voice performance in my life. I was suddenly back in my old apartment wondering what happens at the moment of death and if our consciousness remains in some fashion so that our time on Earth isn’t completely wasted while this asshole belches misogynistic quips directly into my ears and eyes.
Anyway Harry has an hour and 10 minutes to prepare for nuclear annihilation.
Harry takes a solid amount of time trying to convince the people in the diner of the impending doom, but the 80’s business lady is the one who confirms that world leaders are fleeing to Antarctica for safety and plans to follow suit with the diner denizens. Harry initially joins them and then decides to go back for his girlfriend of 6 hours (who he stood up) after failing to force the driver to stop by holding a gun to his head. They make him jump during a turn because no one cares enough about his girlfriend he’s had for less than a workday and he bounces on the pavement. He doesn’t even crack his glasses despite them flying off his head.
This flick makes sure to touch on every possible genre and aspect of movie making there could ever be, which is why at this point in the movie it makes sure to introduce a racist character: Wilson, the black car stereo thief. I have seen no review that acknowledges or mentions this. I’m not sure why Wilson has to be a literal thief in this script; it’s character dressing that serves nothing and dregs the lowest portrayals of black men in 80’s cinema for what appears to be literally no reason. There is a scene where his race is relevant because he and Harry are hassled and harassed by two cops specifically because Wilson is black and it’s late at night in L.A. I think, and I loathe to say it, this aspect was written in so the audience, in theory, wouldn’t feel so bad when he dies. In truth, I only do not feel bad when he dies because it means he no longer is subject to Harry and Julie’s whims and is free from this hell on Earth.
Harry and Wilson stop to get gas in a scene that takes approximately 10000 years in which they are accosted by the gas station owner (no 24 hour pumps!) who levels a shotgun at Wilson while Harry makes a bunch of boring phone calls that amount to nothing in the long run. Cops show up, Wilson sprays gas in their faces and when one fires her weapon they both go up in flames. BBQ pork. Check out this dummy work ahahaha.
Harry and Wilson jack the cop’s car and bail to go get Julie. Harry then breaks into Julie’s apartment when she doesn’t answer the door and watches her sleep (normal!). Wilson rightfully decides he can’t put up with this shit anymore and leaves to go save his sister from certain death, making him the smartest character in the narrative for leaving it when he had the chance. The grandmother and grandfather reconcile just because one broke the silence that’s been hanging between them for 15 years. I understand that the suggestion by the script is how absurd it is that nuclear annihilation was the only thing that would force these two together again but as an audience member I couldn’t care less. Both of these characters had two lines each prior to these scenes. They were barely people to me. This makes me sound like an incredibly cold, evil person but a movie is not real life!! I know these aren’t real people and I need to be convinced that they are like real people and why their long silence is so effecting to the other characters who should also feel like real people!! Otherwise who cares!
Harry, Julie, Julie’s grandma (name forgotten by me due to disinterest) and Julie’s grandfather (same) head to the building where a helicopter will take them to Antarctica. Julie wakes up and inexplicably decides they are going on a balloon ride based on absolutely no information at all. I mean literally none. She’s just like “oh boy a balloon ride 🙂 sounds like something you would do! (how would she know?)” right after she wakes up. The grandparents bogart the car because they’ve decided they want to die together. Julie still has no idea the world is ending and Harry doesn’t tell her so she doesn’t actually have a conversation with her grandparents before they leave forever to become Pompeii skeletons.
Finally, they go to the helicopter, but there’s NO PILOT!! This is where the plot becomes so deliriously infuriating because Julie is incapable of staying still. I hate to say “she should just follow directions, from the man” but 90% of this movie would not have happened if she hadn’t wandered off like a toddler in a JC Penny. Perhaps they should have coordinated some kind of plan together and utilized the fact that there are two of them to cover ground faster. Maybe she should have been given a bigger role than “object to chase” by the director/writers, but alas, she is merely akin to Baby Mario in the hit 1995 Super Nintendo Entertainment System game “Yoshi’s Island”. Just floating away, inconveniently.
Meanwhile, Harry is literally running all over town desperately trying to find someone who can fly the helicopter. He finds a piece of beefcake at the gym with a boyfriend (played as a joke!) who can fly the copter but Julie is off eating dandelions in the outfield so now he has to go and wrangle her again. Wilson returns to the narrative by driving the cop car directly into the building near them so they can waste more time in the plot. Wilson’s sister is dead from the crash and he furiously points out it’s been an hour and nothing has happened. What if…It was a prank…? (It’s not, but the movie would have been better if it was.)
Cops surround the building. Wilson dies with his sister in his arms. Harry and Julie have a very symbolic conversation in a clock section of a department store. Just as Julie attempts to face the cops with her hands up and explain the situation to them very calmly (white-ly), the cops fucking bail. Like they just pack up and dash off. It’s happening baby!! Harry just wastes more time calling the panicked soldier’s dad to confirm he has a son before the streets descend into chaos. There’s a coyote in the diner now.
After some more random stupid shit happens, they finally make it to the top of the building. But not before they have what I can really, truly, only describe as a conversation not unlike two thirteen year olds trying to discuss mortality and morality during thelongest elevator ride in the known universe. “People will take care of each other, right Harry? The survivors?” Julie pleads. “It’s the insect’s turn,” Harry says indifferently as though the restaurant they’re at has Pepsi and not Coke.
On the roof, the only person remaining is the assistant to the 80’s business woman who is allowed to have a drunken/high rampaging shirtless rant as the first missiles cross the sky. The helicopter arrives to save our two heroes, albeit not for long. This is the point where the movie starts to test my ass because it thinks its “Threads” or “Barefoot Gen”. As the nukes hit, the assistant’s eyes apparently melt (it is impossible to see this in the video I was watching but reviews mentioned it so I guess I have to take their word for it) and the electromagnetic pulse kills the helicopter’s engine. We end where the movie began…At the La Brea Tar Pits. Wow…screenwriting.
As they sink into the goop, Julie rightfully freaks the fuck out. Harry, in his most throttle-able moment yet, attempts to placate her in their final moments by reminding her the world is a scorched wasteland with no hope and the best thing is to simple roll over and die (probably true, okay) and that someday scientists will find them in a museum or they’ll be hit directly and incinerated so thoroughly they’ll be turned into diamonds. If I were Julie I would be force feeding him tar at this point but she seems enamored with the idea of turning into a diamond or a museum exhibit. It ends with a big boom. Then credits.
No one makes it out alive. No lives are sacred in nuclear holocaust. The most successful movies about nuclear warfare have made this their central point in order to sway the hearts and minds of people whose only motivation for avoiding war is “me?? I could die as well?? ME?? The Hero of Life?”. “Miracle Mile” perhaps is not the movie best suited for doing this; it presents a world where I want everyone in it to die. I am indifferent to some at best. The worst people you are forced to repeatedly interact with in the movie are the protagonists and they are exactly like people making out furiously while you’re trying to eat a sandwich at the park but they keep making eye contact with you even though you’re not even remotely trying to look at them.
Maybe I don’t like this movie, actually.