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Film / Miracle Mile

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Miracle Mile is a 1988 apocalyptic thriller film written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt (Cherry 2000). The title refers to the film's setting, the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles.

The film starts out as a romantic comedy, with Harry (Anthony Edwards), a jazz musician, and Julie (Mare Winningham), a coffee shop waitress, meeting and falling in love one afternoon. The two make plans for a date later that evening after Julie finishes work, but Harry's alarm clock fails to ring due to a power failure and he oversleeps. Waking up in the middle of the night, he races to the coffee shop, only to find that Julie has already left, so he leaves her an apologetic message on a pay phone. After he hangs up, the phone rings and Harry answers it, hoping it's Julie; instead, a panicked voice tells him that missile strikes have been ordered, and all-out nuclear war will begin within the hour.

The call turns out to be a wrong number, the caller is interrupted by someone else who tells Harry it was a joke and to forget everything he's heard, and Harry is left wondering whether the news is legitimate. The remainder of the film is spent more or less in Real Time as Harry looks for Julie, tries to confirm the news, and wonders what to do next.

MAJOR SPOILERS follow. As the film depends heavily on twists and reveals for its impact, spoilers are unavoidable. If you want to keep your surprise, watch the film first, then come back here. And don't click any of the icons on the top of the page. You Have Been Warned.

Miracle Mile provides examples of:

  • Apocalypse Anarchy: Since Chip's message keeps on spreading without any confirmation from anyone over the course of the film, by the third act, it hits the point where an entire city reaches a state of panic and utter chaos emerges.
  • Apocalypse How: Nuclear war has apparently already begun. All that's left to do is wait for the missiles to land.
  • Armies Are Evil: The US Government starts World War III, without any prior indications of any ongoing conflicts or tense international situation. They also want to keep it secret from their own civilian population.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Harry and Wilson are confronted by an angry attendant when they try to fill up Wilson's car at a taxi-only gas station. Unfortunately, no such stations exist,note  as it's more convenient for taxi drivers to refuel at public stations using a company line of credit.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Attempted by the helicopter pilot at the end, when he keeps his promise to return for Harry and Julie, even while grievously injured. His heroism is negated when the EMP of one of the warheads knocks the helicopter out of the sky, presumably killing him on impact. Still, he gets points for trying.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Harry screams at the diner patrons to shut up when they ignore his talk about Chip's warning.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends at La Brea Tar Pits.
  • Bottle Episode: The bulk of the movie — from Harry's arrival at the restaurant to the end frame — takes place almost entirely within a half-mile radius of Los Angeles' Miracle Mile district. If he didn't get in Fred's van, Harry could have easily walked from the restaurant to Julie's apartment and then from the apartment to the helipad during the movie's run time.
  • The Cameo: Author, actor, and former career criminal Edward Bunker plays the gas station attendant.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • The main plot kicks off when Harry gets a wrong-number phone call from a phone booth right after he uses it to call Julie.
    • Landa, the political aide who once dated a RAND researcher and is an expert on nuclear war procedures, is a regular late-night patron at Johnie's restaurant.
    • When Harry and Julie arrive at the office helipad and learn the pilot hasn't arrived yet, out of the sheer desperation Harry decides to wander the neighborhood (at 4:00 AM, no less!) to see if he can find a passing stranger who can fly a helicopter. He succeeds.
  • The Conspiracy: For whatever reason, the military deliberately wants to keep the public uninformed about the upcoming end of the world, killing their own launch technicians in the process.
  • Cool Car:
    • Harry starts out the film owning a very nice 1960 Buick Electra 225 sedan. Unfortunately, it's stolen soon after he tells the people in the diner about the phone call.
    • An old flame of Julie's elderly roommate is shown driving a well-maintained 1950 Pontiac Streamliner Station Wagon.
    • When he first runs into Harry, Wilson is shown driving an iconic Chevrolet Chevy II "Nova" convertible.
  • Cop Killer: Wilson accidentally kills two police officers, spraying them with gasoline to escape arrest. On reflex, one of the officers fires their gun, lighting themselves on fire. The fire spreads to their fellow officer and the gas station pumps, causing the station to explode. When Harry re-encounters Wilson, the police are hot on his tail, explicitly calling him a cop killer on their bullhorn.
  • Creepy Gas-Station Attendant: An urban version appears when Harry and Wilson stop at a service station to call Julie on the payphone. The gun-totting nightwatchman pointedly calls Wilson "Boy" and makes the customers pump their own gas. When the police show up to arrest Harry and Wilson, the attendant forms an Enemy Mine situation with the latter due to fear of being arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison if and when the police realize that he doesn't have a permit for his shotgun.
  • Deadline News: The hectic, unprepared newscast about "reports of panic caused by unconfirmed nuclear attack" that is broadcasted near the end of the film cuts to a reporter on the streets, reporting how Los Angeles has descended into complete anarchy. He's shot in the chest by a random gunman 10 seconds into his report, his cameraman being shot right after.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The redneck who tries to follow Harry and shoot him for jumping on top of his car.
  • Downer Ending: Chip's call was real. Nuclear war commences, and Harry and Julie fail to escape Los Angeles in time, taking a direct hit from a missle after sinking in the La Brea Pits.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: In the third act, when everything is going to hell, one car attempts to ram through traffic and explodes on impact. It's also the scene depicted on the film's poster, providing the mushroom cloud.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole movie takes place over the course of a day. After Harry receives the phone call, it runs in Real Time.
  • Eye Scream: Once the missiles strike and detonate, Gearstead covers his face to avoid the blinding light. He wasn't quick enough, as his eyes proceed to melt through his fingers.
  • Foreshadowing: Harry jokes with some schoolkids about what their skulls would look like if they're found in the tar pits in 10,000 years. In the end, he and Julie are both submerged in the tar pits, and Harry notes that they might be found inside one day.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Harry and Julie take comfort in dying in the La Brea Tar Pits and joining the past extinct animals. According to the director, they will indeed become diamonds in the future.
  • Fetch Quest: A seemingly never-ending string of them happens to Harry. It eventually gets him and Julie killed, since he wasted almost the entirety of the very little time they had without progressing even a step toward their own safety.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: For a story told in Real Time, the film is crowded to the brim with characters, each of them playing their own part with their own story going on.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: An air raid siren sound after the credits end, serving one last helping of fear to the already paranoid audience.
  • Genre Shift: The film dramatically shifts from a Romantic Comedy to an apocalyptic thriller. It even manages to mislead the audience, as the first scenes are shown as if it's happening in the future, with Harry having lost Julie.
  • Gym Bunny: The helicopter pilot Harry finds is a weightlifter whom he recruits straight out of the gym. He turns out to be Manly Gay.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first 15 minutes, until the inciting incident, is a romance between two quirky young adults. When Harry gets the phone call, the genre promptly shifts. HARD.
  • Hellish Copter: Played with. The pilot does return for Julie and Harry, though he is badly wounded. They manage to take off, but three missiles hit the city and detonate, the EMP blast knocking out the helicopter's engine and causing it to splash down in the La Brea Tar Pits, where it starts sinking and filling with tar. All Harry can do is comfort Julie in their final moments.
  • Hero of Another Story: Since the film is loaded with dozens of characters, but focuses on Harry's adventures exclusively, it's a given. There are the diner patrons, Wilson the stereo thief and his sister, the yuppies at the skyscraper's roof, the pilot between his flights, Julie's parents...
  • Hope Spot:
    • At one point, it seems that Chip had been lying, as the nukes fail to appear at the time he said they would. It's played straight when, only a few minutes later, a missile flies by overhead, confirming Chip was telling the truth after all.
    • The helicopter pilot appears at the helipad, although wounded, and tries to fly Harry and Julie out of Los Angeles. Nukes are then detonated over the city, causing an EMP that makes the helicopter crash.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate:
    • If his alarm clock had rung, Harry would have been out with Julie and wouldn't have gotten the phone call. Harry realizes this in the third act, and wonders why he couldn't just have found out like everybody else.
    • If Julie had just waited for Harry at the heliport, they would've made it to the airport with time to spare.
    • Even earlier, Harry could've simply waited for Julie's parents to take them to the airport. The streets don't get packed until the last 15 minutes.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Fred, the diner's owner and cook, firmly refuses to do anything but drive straight to the airport with as much supplies as he can carry. At this point, wasting even a few seconds on just about anything can be lethal. Case in point, he doesn't slow down much when Harry jumps out of the truck. He also doesn't let Harry go back for Julie because he knows that anyone else would immediately ask to pick up their loved ones as well, sending them all into a Fetch Quest and losing valuable time.
  • Lady in a Power Suit: Landa the political aide goes dining at 3:00am in a sky blue power suit.
  • Last Note Nightmare: After the credits end, an air raid siren is heard blaring at deafening volumes.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The home video cover pretty much gives away that the call is real. The Bluray cover simply has a flaming palm tree.
  • Manly Gay: The "powerlifter" helicopter pilot (played by the rugged Brian Thompson) is quite macho. When his loved one Leslie turns out to be a man, it's treated as a surprise. He defiantly asks Harry if he's going to have a problem with it before they get down to business.
  • Man on Fire: The police officers who accidentally light themselves on fire at the gas station.
  • Meet Cute: Harry and Julie meet at the La Brea Tar Pits, where Harry amuses her with various jokes, but the moment he tries to make his move, an old couple gets between them and she walks away. Just as he's lamenting his bad fortune, she finds him, and they go on a date.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Harry, after Julie tells him all of this could just be a cruel prank, since they should be dead already. And even after she is proven wrong and sees that missiles really are closing in, Harry is still in shock due to the widespread carnage he caused.
  • No Name Given: Brian Thompson's pilot character is never named. He's called "powerlifter" in the credits.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: It's never revealed why exactly nuclear war is commencing, since it's stated that there aren't any international conflicts (that the characters know of) going on. We particularly don't know who the USA is going to war with, why they feel the need to make the first strike, and why they deliberately want to keep everyone in the dark about it, essentially condemning the world's populace to certain death.
  • One Crazy Night: Harry driving to the eponymous L.A. neighborhood for a date with his girlfriend leads to him getting a call with a warning about a nuclear attack and racing around town trying to find a way to make it to a helipad with his girlfriend and escape the blast range while being bogged down by cops, rioters, and other quirky individuals trying to get out of town.
  • Posthumous Narration: Harry narrates the opening scene of the film about him falling in love with Julie, but they both die in the end.
  • Prank Call: Discussed. The diner patrons insist, based on Harry's lack of evidence, that Chip is just a prank caller before Landa starts corraborating parts of his story. Even Harry himself starts doubting the authenticity of the call in the third act.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Justified. The diner patrons are a bunch of random strangers who all happend to be in the place early in the morning, including the staff, a bussinesswoman, a pair of streetsweepers, a transvestite, a dim-witted stewardess, and a homeless hobo. From what we see, they create a suprisingly effective team.
  • Real Time: After the opening scene, the movie is told exclusively in real time.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Harry and Julie spend most of the movie trying to get to safety. They don't make it; their helicopter getting affected by an EMP and crashing in the La Brea Tar Pits. Cue a white flash indicating that they've suffered a direct hit, then roll credits.
  • Shown Their Work: A minor example, but Chip admits that he accidentally dialed a 213 area code (Los Angeles) when he was trying to contact someone in the Orange County area code of 714.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Chip the silo technician, for calling Harry on a wrong number and giving the warning, and Landa, who appears for less than ten minutes, for confirming it by calling local politicians she knows and finding out they've all left town for the Southern Hemisphere, which convinces most of the others at the diner.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two cops who Wilson sprays with gasoline. Both cops know what they got sprayed with, yet one of them instinctively fires off her gun, which ignites the gas and sets her ablaze. Once she's on the ground burning, her partner runs over and tries to instruct her to get away from the pumps. However, due to being covered in gas as well, he catches on fire, falls on top of his partner, and the fire only gets stronger, burning both officers alive and causing the gas station to explode.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Chip, the anonymous caller. The entire suspense of the film is build around the inability to check if his call was real. The ending reveals that, unfortunately, it was.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Harry drops a lit cigarette without putting it out. As a result, a bird picks it up, accidentally causing a fire that knocks out the power in his apartment. As a result, he's late in picking Julie up, and arrives at the diner just in time to pick up Chip's phone call.
  • The Voice: Chip, and whoever picked the phone after shooting him.
  • Wham Shot: The moment when Gearstead points to the horizon, where we see a missile streaking across the sky, confirming once and for all that Chip's call was real.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The film is told entirely from Harry's perspective, so we never find out what happened to the other diner patrons or staff. When Wilson reappears near the end, he's clearly had an adventure just as crazy as Harry's, but he dies before he can explain what happened to him.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Roger, the transvestite at the diner, is a pretty early example who displays no Camp Gay stereotypical features. Instead, she spends most of her dialogue simply trying to give an old man directions across town. When the diner patrons start panicking over Harry's story, she's the only one who stays behind, calmly disregarding the the story as a Prank Call.