Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Retro Review: Midnight Run

 I've been watching Midnight Run with the intention of breaking it up into 15 Minute Review segments, but I found myself caught up in the film itself and thought I'd put it into a Retro Review instead. I can't say for certain when I saw Midnight Run for the first time, but I'll venture a guess and say it was on video not long after its 1988 theatrical run. Let's also assume I was probably younger than I should have been for a film where 80% of Robert DeNiro's dialogue consists of the word "fuck."

 Midnight Run is the kind of movie that seemed like it was always playing on cable during weekends, in pan-and-scanned / "edited for content" versions. It's a "road" picture, in that Jack Walsh (DeNiro) and Johnathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Charles Grodin) as bounty hunter and bounty, respectively, try to get from New York to Los Angeles by Friday so that Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) doesn't miss the bail bond he posted. Jack's attempts to bring Mardukas back are thwarted by the Mafia (who "The Duke" stole money from), the FBI (who want Mardukas to testify), rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), and Mardukas himself. He won't fly, complains constantly, and tries to escape more than once. All Walsh wants it to bring the fugitive back, collect his hundred grand, and find a new way to live his life.

 In addition to the leads, there a host of familiar faces playing people contributing to Walsh's headache: there's Yaphet Kotto (Alien) as FBI Agent Alonzo Mosley, who Jack spends a bulk of the movie impersonating; Dennis Farina (Out of Sight) is Jimmy Serrano, the mob boss who ruined Jack's life as a Chicago police officer and who wants Mardukas all to himself. His consigliere?  Phillip Baker Hall (Magnolia). You'll probably also recognize Robert Miranda (Heat, The Untouchables), Wendy Phillips (Big Love, Touched By an Angel), and Batman's "Bob the Goon," Tracey Walter, although Reno 911 fans might know him better as the Sheriff of Revo, Nevada.

 Directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop, Gigli), written by George Gallo (Bad Boys, Double Take), and with an atypically saxophone heavy score by Danny Elfman (Forbidden Zone, Mars Attacks), Midnight Run is a cracking action / comedy that is frequently hilarious and makes the best of DeNiro's prickly, acerbic wit and Grodin's wry comic timing. It's weird to think about, but there was a time when he wasn't just the guy who had been in those lousy Beethoven movies - he's the secret weapon of Midnight Run, often playing the straight man to DeNiro's perpetually frustrated tough guy, but then he'll sneak in every now and again with a line that really brings the laughter.

 The film takes Walsh and Mardukas from New York to Chicago to Texas to Arizona to Las Vegas and finally (SPOILER) Los Angeles. Along the way there are all sorts of ridiculous contrivances, car chases, trickery, double crosses, explosions, and lots of yelling. It really shouldn't work, but Midnight Run was just as entertaining to me as it was the first time I watched that VHS tape. It's probably the same tape, a worn out, pan-and-scanned copy (I don't know that I've ever seen Midnight Run in its proper screen format), but when I decided to stay on the treadmill until the movie was done, I grossly underestimated how much of the film was left and ended up sticking it out for the last 50 minutes. I had forgotten that the helicopter chase with Jack, Mardukas, Marvin, and the Mafia assassins was in the middle of the movie and not near the end.

 Oh well, I had fun watching the movie again. I think I'll rent the DVD some time later this year to see what it's supposed to look like. I doubt I'll be checking out the three made for television sequels: Another Midnight Run, Midnight Runaround, and Midnight Run for Your Life. I didn't even know they existed, and by most accounts, that's probably for the best. The important part is that if you're in the mood to see Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in a comedy before they both became... well, not-so-funny, Midnight Run holds up. Check it out all over again.

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