Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Identity Thief has us thinking about movie characters operating under false identities.
Miami Blues (1990)
Early in Miami Blues, Alec Baldwin’s impulsive sociopath lifts somebody’s wallet and creates a fake ID from the driver’s license, passing himself off thereafter as one Herman Gottlieb. The incongruity between name and face is typical of the movie’s droll sense of humor, derived as much from criminally underemployed writer-director George Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank, The Big Bounce) as from the Charles Willeford novel he adapted. Nor is Herman Gottlieb the only other identity Baldwin will assume. Under investigation for accidentally killing a Hare Krishna at the airport, he breaks into the ratty apartment of the detective on his trail (Fred Ward) and steals the poor schnook’s gun, his badge, and even his false teeth. This haul opens up a brand-new criminal method for Baldwin, who proceeds to run around Miami posing as a cop, robbing not only other robbers but also those robbers’ initially grateful victims.
Part of the disreputable fun of Miami Blues is how completely non-tortured Baldwin is by such role-playing. He never begins to identify with the “characters” he plays, which involve zero acting on his part, and his sweet but none-too-bright girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her mind-blowing prime) doesn’t even notice the inconsistencies in his story. Ward’s on to him, though, and the movie is essentially an idiosyncratic dance between their two sensibilities. As in most cop-and-crook pictures, they’re two sides of the same coin, but here they represent warring embodiments of devil-may-care rather than the usual fiery intensity. Likewise, the movie itself is something of a goof (albeit a pretty gory one at times), yet it still manages to plumb surprising depths of emotion in its sideways fashion. “He always ate everything I ever cooked for him,” Leigh says at the end, trying to explain their relationship, and the simplicity is heartbreaking.
Availability: DVD only, though it can often be found for under $10.