Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988) is strikingly similar to Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist (2007). In both films, a man is put inside the confined epicenter of an apocalyptic event and must face the horrifying the event itself and the fear-induced frenzy it has stirred within an increasingly crumbling society. Moreover, both films offer up a bleak, pessimistic analysis of how those potentially final hours will unfold. The Mist criticizes the blind embrace of religion in the face of certain death while Miracle Mile completely undermines free will. In other words, resistance is futile.
Despite the bleak moral terrain Miracle Mile ultimately goes on to inhabit, the film starts off in the sunny glow of Los Angeles and newfound love. Harry (Anthony “Goose” Edwards) is a trombonist wasting away his afternoon at the La Brea Tar Pits. He encounters a waitress named Julie (Mare Winningham) and they immediately fall hopelessly in love (seriously). Harry asks Julie out on a date and she tells him to meet her after her night shift at Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire and Fairfax (this is a well known movie location for Los Angeles residents and I’d like to point out that the visual essay Los Angeles Plays Itself is now available on YouTube). Unfortunately, Harry’s alarm doesn’t go off and he misses Julie when he arrives at Johnie’s. What he doesn’t miss, however, is a phone call from a payphone warning him that he only has approximately seventy minutes until nuclear warheads strike the city.
From there, Harry finds himself with a laundry list of chores to accomplish. First, he has to track down Julie. Next, he has to get Julie to a helicopter pad across town so that they fly to LAX to meet a flight bound for Antarctica. In the meantime, complications ensue. Harry needs a car . . . so he steals one from Wilson (Mykelti “Limehouse” Williamson) at gunpoint. Then, when he finds Julie, he discovers that the helicopter does not have a pilot. As the film progresses, Harry finds himself drawn towards increasingly violent actions to attain his goals while most of those around him doubt his claims of nuclear war and his sanity.
The film—aside from some cringe inducing dialogue (“Third date, Harry, I’m gonna screw your eyes blue.”) and some leaps in logic that slowly derail Harry’s plan—is incredibly effective for a low-budget production dealing with the moral quandaries of Armageddon. The structure and real-time duration of the film’s second part drum up the suspense and anxiety. Moreover, Tangerine Dream’s electronic score is particularly memorable. The most glaring problem with the film is the romance between Harry and Julie. Once that payphone rings, the film goes through a huge tonal shift from the opening moments—which play off like a romantic comedy—to the paranoid anxiety of the second half. I guess there’s a certain logic for it, as the apocalypse could be a jarring event, but the entire relationship between Harry and Julie seems forced. Why write them as a newlywed couple? Without any sense of their history, it’s difficult to feel empathy towards their plight and that is the film’s greatest fault.