Review: Is the Drafthouse release of ‘Miami Connection’ a case of ‘so bad it’s good’?

If you genuinely enjoy the experience of watching a movie, is that the same thing as watching it ironically or making fun of it?

That’s a question that’s worth asking as Drafthouse Films prepares for a theatrical release of the 1987 film “Miami Connection.”  The movie has languished in obscurity for years now, ever since its split-second release, and was just recently rediscovered by the programming team at the Alamo Drafthouse, who played a print as part of their Weird Wednesday screening series.  For those unfamiliar with how that works, the Alamo is in the business of building up a print archive, having even started a non-profit foundation to do so, and they are constantly buying prints of movies, many of which they’ve never heard of at all.  They use their late-night screening series to look at the prints and see if there are any unsung gems in there, and when they showed the first reel of “Miami Connection,” they flipped for it.  They ended up making a deal with the filmmakers to give the movie new theatrical life, and this year’s Fantastic Fest was the film’s official coming out party.

To that end, they went all out to present the movie right on the festival’s opening Friday night as the big prime-time event.  If the audience wanted to just treat the entire night as one big roast, I’m sure they could have, but I would argue that the reason to enjoy a movie like “Miami Connection” is not as simple as “laugh at the terrible movie.”  There’s a reason “The Room” became a sensation and other terrible films do not.  There’s a reason Zack Carlson and Lars Nielsen are fanatical about “Miami Connection” and Dragon Sound and not a dozen other silly action movies they’ve screened.  And ultimately, I think that reason is sincerity.

I find I have a very low tolerance for sitting through bad movies when they feel like someone’s cynical attempt to make a buck.  I don’t really believe in “so bad it’s good.”  I think a bad film is a bad film, and I am depressed by coarse, phony product.  One of the reasons I didn’t even bother piling on to the release of that disturbing “Oogieloves” film is because I think people are smart enough to smell that particular strain of shit.  When your poster advertises that your film is the result of the efforts of “the marketing visionary behind ‘Teletubbies,'” that is one seriously toxic insult to the audience, and people saw right through it.

With “Miami Connection,” though, I genuinely enjoy the movie.  It is, by almost any objective metric, a terrible film, but it is also truly entertaining all the way through, scene by scene, and when I eventually own it… and I will… I won’t re-watch it because it’s awful.  I’ll re-watch it because I can’t believe how entertaining it is in spite of the near total ineptitude.  It is charming, and part of that is because the film was made almost entirely by non-professionals, people with one credit who never did anything else.  Movies like that have a very special vibe, because there’s sort of a “putting on a show in a barn” quality to it.  You get the feeling they did everything they’ve ever wanted to do, because they knew there’s no guarantee they’re ever making anything else.  I used to refer to a movie that was made famous by “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as “so bad that it’s like no one ever made a movie before,” and what I mean by that is that these filmmakers have so little sense of how to make a movie that the entire vocabulary of the film, the basic building blocks that most filmmakers possess, is off-center, wrong, and it makes for a fascinating glimpse into how an outsider processes movies.

Y.K. Kim is a very strange central figure for a movie.  He may be the guy that drove the whole thing, and he may be the lynchpin for all of these other people in real life, but he just doesn’t have the charisma to be the lead in the film.  It’s sort of like someone took Danny McBride’s character from “The Foot Fist Way” and built an action film around the specific skill sets he exhibits when he does a “demo.”  He’s significantly older than everyone else onscreen, so it’s weird that they’re all supposedly college students together.  It’s one of those uniquely ’80s films where the main characters are in a band and they also all live together and they also fight injustice together.  The reality of the film makes so little sense that I stopped even trying to buy into it.  It’s a movie that changes tone constantly, where there is very little real narrative momentum, but it is constantly entertaining.  There is a great sense that the people onscreen were united in this insane venture that they didn’t really know how to pull off, and they all muddled through it together, and the charm of seeing them do it is genuine entertainment.  Yes, there are laughs that come from the choices they make.  There is a line delivery of three simple words — “Oh my god” — that made me laugh for about ten minutes, and there are scenes where basic dramatic logic breaks down to such a degree that it is hilarious, but there’s that same earnest attitude from the cast in every moment, and I felt affection for them, not superiority to them.

I’m just glad that the people who made “Miami Connection” get to have this experience, this moment of celebration, and seeing them at Fantastic Fest, seeing them in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, seeing how they are enjoying this without any illusions that the film is anything other than the same exact crazy thing it was when it failed originally… that’s the kind of happy ending that any filmmaker can appreciate.  It may be late, it may not be the way they imagined it, but “Miami Connection” is finally, gloriously, having its day.

“Miami Connection” is rolling out in limited release starting this weekend, and I would never ever suggest that anyone immediately smuggle in copious amounts of beer and as many friends as possible to any screening near them.  Never.