Film Reviews

Miami Connection: The Kung Fu '80s Electro-Funk Flick of Your Dreams

Can we as a culture at last retire the idea that a movie can be so "bad" it's good? I ask this question while still pleasurably punch-drunk from Miami Connection, a rediscovered junkster piece of uncut '80s electro-pop chop-socky ridiculousness that is exactly what Purple Rain would have been if the Revolution had traded Prince and much of their talent for black belts in tae kwon do and a commitment to bring a message of peace to the world in between brutal martial arts street battles with a rival band of Orlando honkies. That's "band" as in a group of musicians, fired from Central Florida's hottest nightclub in favor of Dragon Sound, our multiculti heroes. Absurd, yes, but director Richard Park and his game and guileless cast have the highest of spirits, and the nonsense bubbles like a bottle uncorked.

Relish the loose, goofy dialogue, which is seemingly improvised and highlighted by complaints of "his damn gang, selling stupid cocaine?" and the world-class come-on "They don't make buns like those down at the bakery." And appreciate the music, in which anxious, rubbery bass snakes beneath fat slabs of synth, while Dragon Sound — whose members live together and share a convertible and don't seem to own enough shirts to dress the whole band at once — sings with robo '80s affectlessness about friendship and tae kwon do. If Ariel Pink had come up with this soundtrack, we'd need to lay tarp down around Pitchfork because Pitchfork's head would explode. And savor the lyrics, especially in the hard-rock, non-Dragon Sound tunes that underscore scenes of Miami Connection's thin Miami connection: Dade County's evil ninja motorcycle gang. "Bikers by day, ninjas by night!" a hard-working hair-rocker yowls. What do those ninja bikers do? Why, "steal all your co-caine/Along with your liiife!"

Also choice are the fights, choreographed (by Young Moon Kwon) with imaginative élan, which mix street scrapping with serious TKD poses and the occasional burst of cherry-pie-looking gore. The action is set in a succession of conveniently empty O-town noplaces, and each is appealingly sloppy, continually surprising, and never a bit believable — which is a serious clue as to why the very idea of "so bad it's good" should have been chucked way back before Dragon Sound's hexagonal digital drums went out of style: This movie has no interest in being "good" in that drab, competent Hollywood way. Instead, it's going all in on awesome, and on its way there, it kicks every ass it meets.

To succumb to binary thinking and call this film "bad" simply because it tiger-claws the eyes of "good" is to ignore the undeniable fact that Miami Connection achieves almost all of its aesthetic goals. You'll laugh and cheer and groove a little, and you'll probably clap at the climactic decapitation even if you're by yourself and you're David Denby from the goddamn New Yorker. Compare this caliber of not good to a legitimately bad movie from this same patch of the '80s, one that aspires to nothing but a professional Hollywood good. The Golden Child, maybe? Has anyone ever clapped at that? Unlike rote, well-made junk like that, Miami Connection is entirely sincere. It ignores pat narrative arcs in favor of daft but great ideas like that ninja motorbike gang, and everybody involved knows it's much greater fun not to care that the lifestyle of silence and discipline doesn't exactly jibe with that of Harley beer guts and drunken dumbfuckery.

The only thing the filmmakers don't quite pull off is making us care or identify with these characters. But the few scenes that aspire to stir emotions deeper than "That's awesome!" are at least quick and sweet. There's no serious effort at manipulating your feelings here, but if you choose to care about the keyboard player's quest to track down his father — did I mention the Dragon Sound bandmates are all orphans? — you are given a chance. If you're tired of being asked to care about such things all of the time, and to take with holy seriousness the inner lives of our Expendables and Impossible Mission acceptors, maybe it's time to give up on the good.

Additional not-"good" goodness worth toasting: a drug dealer's beltless Chess King slacks; glimpses of a ninja Zumba class; a soulful martial arts practice sequence out back of what looks like a community college; the way one Dragon Sounder springs forward, catlike, to shred a solo; another band member asking, "How do you feel about working some board-breaking into the act?"; a perfectly timed unintentional sight gag involving old-school tighty-whitey basketball shorts; extras wearing the same clothes on different days; a note on the board in a University of Central Florida computer class reading, "To get into BASIC: Enter 'BASICA'"; and the first names of the actors playing masked and black-clad ninjas: Frank, David, Jim, Terry, Scott, Ed, Robert, Eddie, Bob, and Bruce.

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Alan Scherstuhl is film editor and writer at Voice Media Group. VMG publications include Denver Westword, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Dallas Observer, Houston Press and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.
Contact: Alan Scherstuhl