Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: Miami Connection

I have a standard operating procedure when confronted with a film so astoundingly, unforgettably inept that it is destined for a special place in my heart. I refer to the likes of Birdemic, The Room, Teen-Age Strangler, or The Beast of Yucca Flats—a film I adore so much I've created a second Twitter account in its honor. That procedure is to ask myself, not in sarcastic bafflement (though there's that, too), "How/why did this get made?" I often feel that I can't fully evaluate a cinematic turd until I've been able to come up with at least a plausible answer to this question.

In the case of the preceding examples, the answers are (in order) "somebody thought he was both Hitchcock and Al Gore"; "somebody wanted to get aspiring naked actress flesh all over him"; "a small town thought they could come together and make a swell picture just as well as Hollywood"; and, well, "I'm Coleman Francis; I don't need a reason."

Which brings us to the glory and the power that is 1987's musical-action spectacular, Miami Connection.

Imagine a Miami where rival synth-pop bands, vying for the choice gig at a particular club, enlist cocaine-funded motorcycle ninjas and gangs full of Mad Max extras to assault one another seemingly at random.

(Did I have you at "motorcycle ninjas"? Maybe skip to the end, then. Otherwise, stay with me.)

Now imagine one heroic synth-pop band, standing alone "Against the Ninja" (that's, um, one of their song titles, and yes, I'm sure), comprised of the following forever-friends:

  • the Korean taekwondo expert who speaks very broken English, yet appears to be their leader
  • the guy who looks way too much like a young H. P. Lovecraft
  • the guy who could not look more like John Oates without access to cloning technology
  • the token girl, who sometimes sings, other times just dances on stage, and unfortunately is the sister of their main nemesis
  • the token black guy, whose rad Jheri Curl cannot soothe his copious weeping about his lost father
  • and the West Side Story expatriate, about whom nothing discernible is established.

They are: DRAGON SOUND, which, as a band name (at least), somehow manages to out-awesome DragonForce. The male members all live in the same house, because friendship. The girl is dating Lovecraft Guy, or maybe they're just good friends (but either way, you'd think they were awkward elevator strangers based on their interactions).

The above is the concept of Miami Connection as best as I was able to piece it together. If you're thinking "Gosh, Z, this movie sounds like a perfect distillation of everything from the '80s that was both lame and popular, except perhaps the political leadership," you're exactly right, and if there's to be a loving homage-sequel to Miami Connection (and there'd better be, is all I'm saying), I hope they pit Dragon Sound against a stand-in for Reagan or Ollie North.

The story is impenetrably clumsy, but the gist of it is that Dragon Sound gets into a lot of fights, and when they're not fighting or pretending to play instruments at a gig, they're practicing their martial arts, babe-cruising at the beach, or just hanging out at the pizza parlor (where they are friends with the proprietor, because these guys are so into friendship that in our time they'd be forcibly recruited by the Bronies). Their evil and strangely obese opponents, meanwhile, hang out at the gym, the junkyard, or the biker bar—the latter for the sole purpose, I surmise, of getting some boobs on camera. And if the crew for your (obviously independently-financed) film couldn't find anybody in Florida willing to show their boobs on camera besides biker chicks, well, your crew must have seemed very sad indeed.

Which brings us back to the standard question of how/why this movie got made. So mystifying is Miami Connection that it took me until almost an hour into it to formulate a hypothesis: that somebody, probably the Korean member of Dragon Sound, ran a taekwondo school in real life and earned just enough from it to make a movie about all the stuff he and his friends think are cool (c.f. aforementioned beach, pizza, bikers, junkyards, rocking, martial arts, ninjas), employing the actual martial-arts skill of some of their "actors" to attempt a Jackie Chan-type legitimacy.

And speaking of "what dumb guys in the '80s thought was cool," there's a bunch of gore, too—most memorably during the climax, which is somehow more batshit than the rest of the movie, and involves Korean Guy and Lovecraft Guy descending into a screaming orgy of katana-swinging death. This sequence includes perhaps my favorite moment of all, when Korean Guy drags half-flayed Jheri Curl Guy through a ditch of knee-deep Florida runoff water, I guess in the spirit of giving him something to really cry about: gallons and gallons of hepatitis A.

Actual research indicates that I was partly right about the how and why of the movie's development—the Korean lead, Y.K. Kim, did indeed run a taekwondo school at the time and was indeed instrumental in bringing Miami Connection to vibrant, blood-spurting life. What I didn't guess is that the idea for Miami Connection originated from an actual director. This helps explain one thing I kept noticing: despite everything, somebody behind the camera seemed to know what they were doing. There's undeniable competence on display in some of Miami Connection's lighting, camera angles and movement, shot composition, and fight choreography—which amazed me in light of the laughably, Birdemicesquely terrible script, acting, story, pacing, music, gore makeup, etc. It's the sort of cognitive dissonance you'd expect from a hypothetical parallel-universe version of The Room where everything's exactly the same, except somehow the love scenes are stunningly erotic.

By now it should be clear to you whether this is your sort of movie or not. Let me emphasize one thing, though: if you are sold on Miami Connection, don't wait. Don't just add it to your queue and put it off for weeks or months out of some lingering dread (as I am currently doing with A Talking Cat!?!), because Miami Connection is a joyous, transcendent experience. Unlike the oft-tedious Birdemic or the oft-squicky The Room, there's not a single scene in Miami Connection that's tough to get through. When I wasn't laughing or paralyzed with confusion, I was marveling at the one or two areas of competence.

And, much like Teen-Age Strangler, Miami Connection has such obvious enthusiasm for its own concept that, despite the ineptitude, you can't really hate it. I mean, this is a movie that not only has motorcycle ninjas, but sincere motorcycle ninjas. The movie is not saying to us, "Motorcycle ninjas, right? How wacky is that?" We are meant to accept wholly the filmic reality of motorcycle ninjas. In short, it's lovably bad, which I would argue is not the case with The Room—or Manos, when you get right down to it.

So, for the sake of friendship, loyalty, and honesty: see this movie. And don't miss the amazing coda.

Sarcastic Star Score: 6 out of 5

Real Star Score: 1.5 out of 5

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for:


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