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"It's below Miami and above the law." That's a weird tag, the 'below Miami' part somehow has unsavory bodily implications for me. Maybe I'm just a freak. I am definitely a freak for Ally Sheedy, however, so when I noticed Legend Films was releasing this long-lost(ish) curiosity, I jumped at it like a rabid dog; a dog below Miami and above the law, if you see what I'm saying.
No, I don't see what I'm saying either. So let's just talk plot, instead. Ne'er-do-well and prodigal son Billy Turner (Judd Nelson) returns to Blue City only to find his dad (Blue City Mayor, and the dude Turner counts on as a de facto get-out-of-jail-free card) riding the slab. Iced, rubbed out. Like any hotheaded spendthrift, Turner quickly mounts an amateur investigation into the unsolved murder. Lots of horrible stuff happens because of this, not the least of which is the appearance of a young David Caruso playing Turner's roughneck loser friend Joey. The bright spot in this scenario is Joey's sister Annie, played by Ally Sheedy, a gal who just can't resist Turner's smoldering insouciance. Risk piles upon risk in Turner's game, culminating in the de rigueur explosive climax, a climax that was the cause of some concern in 1986. Back then copious, bloody gun violence seemed a tad outré for the Brat Pack pair, who'd previously made their names by being coyly sexual for teen audiences' delight.
Of course the violence, save one nasty shotgun blast, is relatively tame for modern moviegoers, and it's not the real problem for Blue City. Adapted from a Ross Macdonald mystery novel, Blue City feels every bit like a pulpy ride that would work much better on the page. You get the feeling that for every minute of screen-time you're missing four pages of description, explication and hard-boiled dialog. The result of this lack is mainly a plateful of sketched in caricatures that seem almost comic in their simplicity. Genre vet Paul Winfield as Police Chief Luther Reynolds gets the worst of it, coming off like a less complex Boss Hogg, constantly chomping on junk food and doling out vaguely threatening favors, without much foundation. Turner's main suspect Perry Kerch (Scott Wilson) is no less lame, surrounding himself with tons of dumb muscle, pleading innocence and constantly trying to buy off Turner, character aspects that feel more like generic mystery-puzzle-pieces than anything else.
Of course there's always Ally. I love the way her jaw moves around in a wily manner. Her subsequent fadeout is a mystery to me, as she's the best actor in Blue City, and, well, there's that jaw thing, too. Oh my. Nonetheless, though her character is more than just eye candy, even she feels sketched-in. Caruso displays hangdog verve as a hick who's given up, but it's Nelson who sinks the ship. Lacking the specific gravity needed to carry out a role like this, Nelson's less convincing here than he was as Bender in The Breakfast Club. Sure, he's a plausible spoiled brat, but where another actor might have been able to convey some believability, Nelson can't. For a guy driven to risk his friend's lives repeatedly to avenge a dad he seemed to hate, Turner never seems any more revved up than a spoiled brat who's lost his car keys for the week. This is in part due to a screenplay that's probably a thin skeleton compared to the novel. It's also due to Nelson's seeming inability to know what to do with the role. He seems lost, trying to move from Bender's wounded bravado to a world where matinee idols are made. He makes it as far as pouty brat-land, but no farther.
Looking every bit an '80s movie, (think of a grittier Alan Rudolph, but without any of the style) Blue City has aged poorly - which is not easy for a movie which was hated upon release anyway. No longer shocking, the whole thing reads like a Very Special Episode of Matlock, with intrigue-light, cardboard characters and only a climactic gun battle to save it. And Ally Sheedy's jaw.
Blue City's 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is of decent quality. It doesn't look like much was done in the mastering to bring it up to state-of-the-art. Grain is a constant companion, and colors are less-than-robust. Probably because of the grain, the image isn't terribly sharp, and detail levels are just a'ight (read: OK). While film damage crops up often, compression artifacts and suchlike aren't a real problem.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio track is sufficient. Dialog is clear and audible, without severe problems from the source material - no dropouts or anything. Ry Cooder's soundtrack material sounds good, if mixed in at a slightly higher volume than is necessary. Call me a heretic, but I find Cooder's dusty, neo-twang score out-of-place in Florida, and just one of many distractions in Blue City.
Closed Captioning is it as far as anything resembling an extra goes.
Blue City is basically just a curiosity for Nelson or Sheedy completists. Seemingly a pallid, disemboweled version of the novel, the movie founders on the shores of sloppy, undeveloped characters and weightless, motivation-less characters. While it's nice to see Sheedy do that thing - like she's locking her jaw while chewing gum - that's about the most that can be recommended of Blue City. But I'm feeling nice today, so I'll give it a very cautionary: Rent It.