Unsung Movies: "Miracle Mile"

Set smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War, Miracle Mile (1989) is a paranoia-fueled, nuclear-threat thriller set in Los Angeles, and it holds the distinction of being the only movie that I have ever watched two days in a row. I usually wait at least a few weeks before seeing a film I love again, but Steve De Jarnatt's end-of-the-world fantasy-cum-love story so floored this teenager (I was about 17 when it was first released on video) that I had to replay it to prove to myself that I actually saw what I had just seen.

Anthony Edwards's hapless hero happens to pick up a ringing payphone late one night, a scary call that warns him that nuclear warheads are on their way to decimate L.A. Was the call cluing him in to a real-life threat? Or was it just merely a cruel prank? Or was it just some deranged individual on the other end of the line?

Edwards isn't sure what to make of it all, even as he recruits others to support his outrageous claims. As word spreads and more of L.A. gets caught up in the apocalypse scenario (L.A. residents will enjoy recognizing all the film's locations), the audience is left to wonder and fret over whether some crazy payphone call can be trusted. All this happens on the very day that Edwards meets the woman of his dreams, a punked-out Mare Winningham, and he races around L.A. to find her and, if the nuclear scare is true, to save her.

Sure, some of you may fault the movie because of some supporting actors who overact and a few unseemly stereotypes, but those can easily be forgiven by two perfectly charming leads you want to root for, by the suspense De Jarnatt is able to squeeze out of his clever premise, by the terrifically dreamy Tangerine Dream score, and by the expert pacing and momentum that makes this thriller actually thrill:

It took 14 years for this movie to be released on DVD (2003), so you can savor it now (despite the fact that it's only available in full-screen format—lame decision, MGM!). As for De Jarnatt, he has only one other feature credit to his name (1988's Cherry 2000), as well as a bunch of TV credits, and I hereby declare that that fact is a goddamn shame. With 20 years more experience under his belt, just think of the amazing movies that he could be making and that the world (okay, well, I) is (am) being deprived of.

On a final note, I have never had the pleasure of seeing Miracle Mile (so titled after the section along Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea) on the big screen. So, hey, Mr. De Jarnatt, want to invite me and a few close friends to your private screening room?! Or, hey, Sherman at the New Beverly Cinema, how about programming this?! Make a young boy's dream come true!

[Addendum 07.23.08 @ 11:42AM: Warning: Spoilers in the comments section.]


  1. .oh yes.you must see it.it even has a realistic ending.by which I mean a sad one.let there be no confusion: not every end of the world is the same.some are lamentable.some are only too laughable.


  2. I remember seeing this film in the theater, in '89, I think.
    The tragic ending - were they caught or trapped in a helicopter?

  3. I remember seeing this film on video as well, Prince. I never forgot it, especially the final moments at the La Brea Tar pits. I don't remember all the details, so it was great to see the clip. I remember a museum, an instrument Smiths song (no, not Ferris Bueller), and that moment in the helicopter.

  4. alright, I was wrong. no Smiths song in the museum...I stand corrected.

    I just love The Smiths.

  5. Wow! People have actually seen this?! Fuck yeah! Man, that ending will wreck ya!