“I’ll bury this telephone in your head”
Gigli. That is all I have to say to begin this review. You may ask why, and I will tell you. Director Martin Brest has not worked in Hollywood since the debacle that was Gigli. After a decade and a half of quality films, his career was destroyed by the pairing of super couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. I really enjoy Meet Joe Black, (besides the ending); find Beverly Hills Cop to be highly entertaining; and have heard good things about Scent of a Woman despite Al Pacino’s Oscar winning over-the-top “Who-Hahs”, and now I can add Midnight Run to the mix of pre-implosion Brest goodness. With a great cast, including odd-couple Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin leading the way, a humorous script, and impressive action sequences on this cross-country trip gone awry, the film overcomes its 1980s atmosphere, (the first class plane set-up is exact to that used in The Wedding Singer, sorry, I had to point that out), to age gracefully and remain as good now as people I’ve heard say it was; those who had seen it back then.
De Niro is an ex-cop turned bounty hunter for a Los Angeles bail-bondsman—a slimy cretin like only Joe Pantoliano can do—that has been enlisted to capture the embezzling accountant of the mob boss that made him lose his job on the force. So, in one fell swoop, his Jack Walsh can make $100,000, get back at the criminal who took his life away, and put a crook behind bars as his self-righteous, by-the-books sensibilities like him to do. By by-the-books, I mean as far as not taking payoffs, not being on the payroll of a drug dealer, and not covering for cops who are. I don’t mean someone who takes the safety of his prisoner seriously, nor Miranda rights or any other creature comforts the people in his custody may deserve. He’ll handcuff you inside a train car bathroom, throw you into a rapid flowing river, toss you from a moving train, and lead you through a gunfight. But that is the kind of stuff that makes the film so much fun. If there weren’t antics and reason for De Niro and Grodin’s accountant “The Duke” to hate each other, their sarcasm and biting rapport would never come through.
And that is truly what makes Midnight Run so enjoyable to watch. The chemistry between these two leads is phenomenal. We’ve got the city cop, blue-collar mentality of Jack pitted against the intellectual, white-collared obnoxiousness of Jon Mardukas. Grodin basically epitomizes the annoying child you may have on a long trip that constantly asks whether you are there yet. His questions and unceasing fervor at which he attempts to get the answers would give anyone an ulcer as they try to keep their temper in check. This is vintage Grodin and makes you wonder where he has gone. Looking back at his career, he didn’t act in very many films, and when he did it was in smaller roles. However, the guy doesn’t deserve to go out with the Beethoven movies. Someone’s got to cast him in something, having only one credit to his name in the past fifteen years. As for De Niro, you may be able to call this the first sign of the comedic bent he has embraced in the last few years. Sadly, he has become a caricature of himself lately, but visiting this gem from 1988 definitely shows you the talent he has, the ability to go from serious to funny, especially with a guy like Grodin to bounce off of.
The script may be a bit obvious, at least as far as connecting the start to the finish. As for as the journey to get there, however, everything, including the kitchen sink, is thrown into the mix. Our duo has the feds on their tail, hitmen from Dennis Farina’s mob boss Jimmy Serrano, (I still love how great this guy is at playing hard-ass wiseguys, yet he was a cop before turning to Hollywood), a competing bounty hunter looking to collect the cash, city police forces, people consorting behind their backs mucking things up, and whatever else you can think of. Jack Walsh is no pushover though, he is the kind of guy that sets his mind to something and follows it through to the end. Only caring for him and the future he hopes to eventually realize, you soon learn that he’ll do anything for self-preservation. The way he treats bounty hunter rival Marvin Dorfler, (supporting journeyman John Ashton), really gets this point across—use whomever until they aren’t needed anymore, then drop them off and continue on.
There are many little things that add to the overall success of the film as well. Yaphet Kotto’s FBI Agent Mosely becomes a lot of fun as he follows one step behind for the duration, the bumbling hitman are always enjoyable, (having one act like a child, playing around all the time while the other tries to talk to the boss helps), and just the subtle way in which De Niro’s past is revealed through his conversations with Grodin bring so much more to what would otherwise be a simple comic actioner. You do find out a lot about the leads through their actions and interactions with those they cross paths with. De Niro’s family life and moral compass eventually reveals the kind of man he is, hidden beneath the hard exterior, and Grodin’s reasons for what he did come out into the open as well. There are motivations behind each action and that attention to detail, coupled with a witty and strongly performed screenplay, shows what Brest can do when he’s given the pieces necessary to succeed. In other words, give him a second chance. I may think differently if I ever view Gigli, but for now, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Midnight Run 8/10 | ★ ★ ★