At the same time, there's a part of Junior that really does want to get domestic with a sweet girl like Susie. She's one of those women who gives everything and asks for little in return. So long as Junior provides for her through his sketchy "investments" and shows a little appreciation for the home-cooked meals she turns out for him every night, that's all she needs. Susie's trusting obliviousness and lack of expectations becomes heartbreaking to watch: When she tells Junior her clichéd dreams of having a house with a white picket fence and raising children, he makes it clear that the house is fine, but kids are out of the question. "I don't want to have any babies," he says. "This world's a shithole. Do you think you can handle that?" And sadly enough, she can, because she can't imagine doing any better.


Not enough can be said about how good Jennifer Jason Leigh is in this movie. It's easy to toss out flippant jokes about how often Leigh has played hookers, from Last Exit To Brooklyn to The Machinist to her phone-sex operator in Short Cuts. But there's a world of difference between her bedraggled whore in Last Exit To Brooklyn and the bubbly naïf she plays here. Leigh gives the impression of a young woman who's so accustomed to being around dangerous, abusive men that she doesn't think twice about it. Watching Leigh and Baldwin together is a bit like that Bambi Vs. Godzilla cartoon: She's destined to get stomped by him, but she makes us feel every disappointment along the way, from the piercing "no kids" rebuff to a scene where she ignites his rage by failing to hand over her life's savings to him. (If she kept the account open, she was just eight days away from a free teapot.) Leigh plays her like a child, and with regard to her character, the movie evolves into a cruel coming-of-age story.

Miami Blues was produced by Jonathan Demme, who knew Armitage back when they were making cheapo movies for Roger Corman in the early to mid-'70s; Armitage appeared as an actor in Demme's women-in-prison staple Caged Heat, scripted the Corman-directed satire Gas-s-s-s, and wrote and directed Private Duty Nurses. Miami Blues could be described as a cross between Demme's buoyant Married To The Mob, which takes a third-act detour to Miami at its most delightfully tacky, and Something Wild, which seems like a quirkfest until Ray Liotta's hair-trigger psychopath shifts it in another direction. Given the added presence of Demme players like Charles Napier (as Ward's cackling, soon-to-be-retired Homicide cohort) and Kenneth Utt (as a non-speaking Krishna), it certainly feels like a close collaboration.


Still, that should take nothing away from what Armitage pulls off here. The director went on to make Grosse Pointe Blank, a witty black comedy about a hitman (John Cusack) who goes home for his high-school reunion, and the two films have a similar matter-of-fact, irreverent tone. (Though Miami Blues is much darker, and the better of the two films in my view.) Making noir relevant in the '90s wasn't easy, but Armitage zags where other, more self-conscious modern noirs have zigged, exposing the genre to the bright Florida sunlight while injecting it with quirky humor and shocking psychosis in equal measure. It makes for one hell of cocktail.

And for those like me who think the therapy session with Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock is one of the funniest things they've ever seen on TV, I leave you with the many voices of Alec Baldwin:


Coming up:

Next week: Babe: Pig In The City

March 27: They Live

Cult On The Cheap Month

April 3: Clerks

April 10: Primer