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Why Miami Vice Fans Should Be Racing to Watch Band of the Hand

By  · Published on July 22nd, 2016

Junkfood Cinema keeps it very manly this week.

Cursing one’s birth is a self-indulgent, melodramatic action usually reserved for ancient Greek theater. I however find myself regularly cursing the cruel circumstances that lead to my being born in 1984 and thus only getting an infantile gumming of this amazing era instead of ravenously feasting on its offerings as I do now retrospectively.

I truly believe that being only two years old when Miami Vice premiered on television is one of my greatest shortcomings as a human being. Fortunately, I was born to a father obsessed with the seminal prime time action crime series. His enthusiasm caused me to, as a teen, flash-consume reruns as if I was trying to snort them through my eyeballs. I began to lament not being old enough in 1986 to shove up my silk blazer sleeves and cruise around the neon oasis of Miami in a car I can, to this day, not at all afford.

All of this, and yet I knew nothing of Band of the Hand.

Band of the Hand is another hidden gem of the summer of 1986, an epoch of cinema currently under the microscope in our One Junky Summer podcast series. The movie was conceived as a television series, but its would-be pilot evolved into a feature film. More accurately, it evolved into three movies that were sledgehammered into one runtime.

Band of the Hand is the story of a group of juvenile delinquents guilty of crimes so severe that they are at risk of being tried as adults and sent to prison. In a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate these young men, the system decides to give them over to (read: dump them unceremoniously in) a survival program lead by a towering man-fire named Joe (played by the equally manly Stephen Lang). They are taught to live off the land and fend for themselves before being sent on a vision quest that takes them through the scariest parts of the everglades before reuniting with their teacher.

That’s an arc, in any other movie, that’s the end of the story. Nope, that’s act one of Band of the Hand. The next two acts take the youths to the mean streets of, where else, Miami where their survival skills are applied to (almost literally) saving the rec center. What begins as a seemingly progressive exploration of peaceful social change, and a call to leave violent pasts behind, then suddenly erupts into an over-boiling cauldron of chaos and destruction. Again, multiple movies at work.

If, like me, you are an enormous fan of Miami Vice (if you hear the synth strains of Jan Hammer any time you drive with the top down or even put on a good pair of shades), here’s why you should hop in the nearest Ferrari, speedboat, or helicopter and get yourself a copy of Band of the Hand (or as I call it, Miami Vice Babies) as fast as you can*.

Band of the Hand was directed by Paul Michael Glaser, best known to one generation as one-half of the TV cop duo Starsky and Hutch and to another generation as the man who directed “Prodigal Son,” the celebrated season-two premiere of, yup, Miami Vice. Most notably, the film was executive produced by Michael Mann, the Mann behind the Vice. The costuming, set dressing, opening sequence, and even the construction of coke-dealing baddies could have all been ripped from your favorite episode.

Band of the Hand also features a parade of immensely talented character actors that reads with the same impressive clout of the shortlist of greatest Miami Vice guest stars of all time; James Remar and Lawrence (then Larry) Fishburne blazing through their screen time. One scene even features Miami Vice mainstay Martin Ferrero (perpetual snitch Izzy) as a hardware store clerk.

Band of the Hand is a great movie on its own, but to those of us who wish we had lived the lives of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, it is a forgotten fix for the addiction. By the time you watch the film’s second montage, accompanied by nearly the entirety of a popular 80s radio hit, you’ll feel like your sitting on Sonny’s boat, drinking a beer and trying not to get eaten by Elvis.

*Amazon would be more convenient, but was not available in 1986 and thus it feels more appropriate to pursue far less convenient means of acquisition.

Would you like to know more about Band of the Hand? Listen to this week’s Junkfood Cinema!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episode covering an additional movie from the summer of 1986! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.