year 1987 saw the release of director Steve De Jarnatt’s debut feature, Cherry
2000, an actioner planted in a dystopian future. A strong headlining
performance from Melanie Griffith aside, it’s not a particularly remarkable
film, but I liked it when I first saw it and still do. However, De Jarnatt’s
second offering, which he also wrote, is a different beast altogether: A unique
and intoxicating cinematic nightmare. Where else but in Miracle Mile can you
see a fledgling romance play out against the countdown to the apocalypse?
strolling around a museum in Los Angeles, Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) and
Julie Peters (Mare Winninghan) cross paths several times. They get talking and
it’s evident there’s a mutual attraction between the two lonely hearts. Having
arranged an after-midnight date with Julie when her waitressing shift at an
all-night diner on L.A.’s Miracle Mile finishes, Harry decides to take a nap.
But his alarm fails to go off and he’s late – almost 4 hours late in fact.
Julie has unsurprisingly given up and gone home. He tries to call her from a
phone booth outside the diner but gets no reply. As he walks away the phone
rings and he returns to answer it. Believing Harry to be someone else, a
distraught man’s voice informs him he’s at a silo in North Dakota from where
nuclear missiles are set to be launched in less than an hour, with reprisals
targeting L.A. expected to follow minutes later...
Mile’s opening scenes introduce its two instantly likeable protagonists and
swiftly lay out enough lightly comic trimmings that anyone going in blind could
easily be primed with expectation for a gentle rom-com. Indeed, we subsequently
follow the couple through a montage of first-date activity and Harry is
introduced to Julie’s beloved grandparents. But hold on, because things are
about to veer off into less comfortable territory. Following the aforementioned
telephone conversation – a couple of minutes during which the film’s tone darkens
quite dramatically – Harry goes into the diner and recounts what he’s just
heard to the motley assembly of patrons. In doing so he plants a seed that
quickly sprouts into a living nightmare. The sense of urgency builds at an
ever-increasing rate as the remainder of the film charts Harry’s race against
time to locate and get Julie to safety, encountering as he goes a succession of
quirky and dubious characters lurking on the night-shrouded streets of L.A.
the escalating tension driven by a hauntingly eloquent Tangerine Dream score, there’s
one burning question that propels the narrative: is what Harry was told during
that phone call for real or was it some sort of twisted hoax? Suffice to say
that as time ticks on and the sun begins to rise all hell breaks loose, with
politesse kicked into the dirt as panic-stricken people behave the way that panic-stricken
people do; cars filled with terrified citizens clog the streets out of the city
and there are glimpses of the animalistic manner in which the less conscionable
choose to spend what they perceive to be their last minutes on Earth. Worse
yet, as potential Armageddon fails to materialise when predicted, Harry begins
to fear that he – rather than any genuine impending threat – may have
inadvertently instigated all the madness, anxiously likening himself to Chicken
Miracle Mile may be touching 30 years old, but for the benefit of those
unfamiliar with the film I shall leave any further discussion about the plot
Edwards and Mare Winningham deliver splendidly endearing performances and
director Steve De Jarnatt invests just enough time establishing the romantic
thread at the outset that, as fate unrelentingly conspires to separate the
pair, the viewer is filled with an overwhelming desire to see them make it out
alive to pastures green. Although almost every other character in the story
appears only briefly, there are memorable turns from Mykelti Williamson as a trader
in knock-off hi-fi gear, John Agar and Lou Hancock as Julie’s grandparents and
Brian Thompson as a fitness freak who just may facilitate Harry and Julie’s salvation.
The fear of nuclear annihilation is something that has hung over our world for decades and here in 2017 it remains a frighteningly real prospect, with the powers-that-be openly trading threats of missile strikes like children hurling playground jibes. As such, Miracle Mile makes for as uneasy a watch now as it did back upon its release in 1988. But if you’ve the stomach for a stylish and on occasion blackly comic serving of holocaust fiction then it’s well worth buckling up for the ride. Alternatively...“Forget everything you’ve just [read] and go back to sleep.”
Miracle Mile has been released in the UK by Arrow Video as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD package bulging with supplementary goodies. The film transfer bears its original stereo soundtrack and boasts vivid, on occasion almost dayglo colours, although there’s an ever-present (but seldom distracting) level of grain in evidence. Along with two commentaries – one with director Steve De Jarnatt and journalist Walter Chaw, the other with De Jarnatt, production designer Chris Horner and cinematographer Theo van de Sande – there are interviews with the director and a pairing-up of Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham. Additionally there’s footage shot at the real coffee shop cum restaurant where some of the actors from that particular sequence in the film were recently reunited, a segment in which Tangerine Dream musician Paul Hasunger discusses scoring the film, a generous 11-minute selection of deleted scenes (concluding with a joyous freeze-frame shot of Edwards and Winningham smiling into camera whilst shooting the film’s final scene), an interesting but too cutesy – and thus probably wisely jettisoned - alternate closing shot, a couple of minutes of storyboard/film comparisons, a trailer and a reading by De Jarnatt of his short story “Rubiaux Rising”. A reversible sleeve and limited edition collector’s booklet (including writing by Tim Lucas) rounds out a distinctly enticing deal.