The problem with Richard Park’s Miami Connection (1987) isn’t that it’s an abysmal mess, it’s that, despite its flaws, the film isn’t actually that bad. Most of the film’s notoriety comes from its haphazard smashing of three different genres: rock ’n’ roll musical, narco-thriller, and ninjasploitation. Both on paper and in practice the idea of a rock group of taekwondo orphans bringing down a Floridian cocaine ring controlled by a group of nefarious ninjas seems more like the result of a drunken game of Mad Libs than a coherent plot. Indeed, Miami Connection could be mistaken for one of those deliberately over-the-top film trailers that pop up in late-night comedy shows. But if broken down, each of the three generic elements works surprisingly well on its own. The two musical numbers performed by Dragon Sound, (our troupe of heroes), may be drenched in kitschy 80s cheese, but they’re surprisingly catchy and memorable. The drug scenes vibrate with an uneasy tension aided in no small part by cinematographer Maximo Munzi who lights, frames, and blocks them like faux-Miami Vice episodes. And while the spectacle of chunky white guys clumsily grappling with each other never fails to elicit guffaws and groans, it must be pointed out that Y. K. Kim—the film’s writer, producer, and lead star—cannot be discredited for his martial arts acumen: as one of the youngest people in Korea to ever earn a black belt in taekwondo, Kim legitimately brings the pain whenever onscreen.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that the latest installment of Rifftrax Live in which comedians and Mystery Science Theater 3000 stars Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett make fun of Miami Connection glares as one of their weakest. Awful movies are easy to mock. Incompetently crafted movies are easy to mock. But we remember Miami Connection for its ridiculousness, not its awfulness; its misguided sense of plot and tone than for its incompetence. Counter-intuitively, Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett are given little to work with. The jokes, more commonly known as “riffs,” come to an almost screeching halt during the musical numbers and fight scenes. There are only so many times that they can make fun of Y. K. Kim’s ridiculous on-stage fake guitar playing or the fact that the drug dealer’s henchmen look like man-sized babies. In addition to seeming uncharacteristically mean-spirited, the constant mocking of Y. K. Kim’s accented English—such as mispronouncing the word “orphan” as “or-pahn” and his stilted delivery of certain lines—seems like they were desperately reaching for low-hanging fruit. I counted no less than three times when Murphy sang one of his trademark ridiculous sing-songs commenting on the onscreen action that were met with almost complete silence both in my theater and with the recorded live audience.
Honestly, at first I thought that Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett were merely off their game. But then I remembered the short film they riffed as a warm-up before Miami Connection: a bizarre piece of 1950s infotainment where a bespectacled “superhero” named Measurement Man whisks an unsuspecting young boy away to an alternate dimension and teaches him standard units of measurement. It was hands-down one of the most absurd, ridiculous, and entertaining shorts I’ve ever seen riffed. The Rifftrax crew were on fire! If it had been featured on MST3K, I have no doubts that it would be as fondly remembered as Mr. B Natural and A Case of Spring Fever.
So if this latest Rifftrax Live event seemed lukewarm or mediocre, perhaps we should credit that more to their choice of film than to their skills as comedians. If the Rifftrax Live event for Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) proved that you shouldn’t riff intentionally bad movies, Miami Connection teaches that neither should you riff movies that are more memorable than terrible.