Midnight Run, 1988.
Directed by Martin Brest.
Starring Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Wendy Phillips and Philip Baker Hall.
Ex-cop-turned-bounty-hunter Robert De Niro has to escort a bail-jumpig Charles Grodin across the country with the FBI, a rival bounty hunter and the mob on their trail.
Back in 1988, when Midnight Run was originally released, mismatched buddy movies were all over the place so in order to stand out from the crowd a new buddy movie would need something special to rise to the top. Luckily somebody managed to blag Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II), an actor not known for his comedic prowess back then but fresh off the success of The Untouchables and clearly on top of his game, and a supporting cast featuring the considerable talents of Yaphet Kotto (Live & Let Die), Dennis Farina (Crime Story), Joe Pantoliano (The Goonies) and Charles Grodin (Rosemary’s Baby), again not really known for their comic skills but a script by George Gallo (Wise Guys) and direction courtesy of Martin Brest (Beverley Hills Cop) also went a long way to ensuring success.
Or artistic success at least, because on its original release Midnight Run was not a huge hit, barely scraping back its budget domestically, but over the years it has built up something of a cult following, and seeing De Niro doing comedy before he hit his comic stride with Meet the Parents is something of a joy. Here, De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an ex-cop working as a bounty hunter after being forced to quit the force because he wouldn’t be corrupted by the local mob. He gets hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) for the elusive ‘one last job’ of finding Jonathan ‘The Duke’ Mardukas (Charles Grodin), a former mob accountant who embezzled millions from his employers and then jumped bail, and bringing him in. However, The Duke isn’t going to make it easy for Walsh, who has assumed the identity of FBI agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) who is also looking for The Duke, as is mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), the Don who The Duke stole from and who tried to buy Walsh’s loyalty when he was a cop. Unsure of Walsh’s capability after Mardukas dupes him into getting a train rather than fly, Moscone brings in Walsh’s rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton – Beverley Hills Cop) to finish the job, setting the scene for much hilarity as the mismatched Walsh and Mardukas discover they may not be so different after all as their various pursuers close in.
With a plot that brings precious little originality to the table, Midnight Run relies on script and performances to see it through and thankfully it scores high on both counts. George Gallo’s dialogue peppers the formulaic plot with witty line after witty line, and the chemistry between Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin – in a role that Robin Williams was a candidate for – ensures that each quip is delivered with maximum potency. But while De Niro and Grodin lead the charge with their antagonistic and, eventually, touching relationship, it is the supporting cast who really milk the comedy out of the situation, with Dennis Farina and Joe Pantoliano shouting and swearing their way through as only they could (the film apparently contains 119 swear words), John Ashton providing the physical comedy and Yaphet Kotto playing possibly the unluckiest FBI agent in film, always one step behind Walsh and constantly having to be given bad news, which the actor reacts to with some effective and amusing silent rage expressions that really make you feel his frustration.
Released in the UK by Second Sight Films, the picture on the Blu-ray disc looks fantastic and extras include interviews with Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton, Charles Grodin, George Gallo plus an audio interview with Yaphet Kotto and a trailer. With any luck this excellent package will bring this unsung gem to a new audience, and if you were one of the people who wrote it off back in the day then this is the perfect chance to give it another go as it is easily one of the most enjoyable comedy thrillers to have come out of the 1980s, having aged a lot more gracefully than most of its contemporaries.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★