This is not one of those movies.
What it is, however, is a whole lot of fun. In many ways, Midnight Run is an oversized parody of other 80's buddy flicks.
Robert De Niro, in a unique turn, plays John Wesley "Jack" Walsh, a down-on-his-luck, smart-aleck bounty hunter. Charles Grodin is a mild-mannered embezzler, Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas, on the run for breaking bond.
Promised $100,000 if he brings in Mardukas by midnight on Friday, Jack Walsh quickly finds and apprehends him in New York. The Duke's aviaphobia prevents the pair from travelling by plane to Los Angeles, so they take to the road. Of course, everything goes wrong, as they are pursued by another bounty hunter, the FBI, and the mob through a series of madcap adventures.
|My favorite scene in the film - because slapstick is about my speed|
Very early in the film the straitlaced Mardukas realizes that he can use his moral authority to bully the secretly conscientious Jack into giving way (incidentally, this technique doesn't work at all on Walsh's hard-hearted foil, Marvin - he's what Jack pretends to be).
The Duke uses every chance he can to awaken Jack's dormant moral compass, from advising him to quit smoking to encouraging that he renew his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter ("Don't you want to be loved?"). All this drives the nervy bounty hunter crazy and results in dialogues by turns hilarious and heartfelt. In the end, they're still bickering, but like an old couple: "Shut up! I'm not talking to you for the whole rest of this trip!"
Is this cliched? YES YES YES. This is 3:10 to Yuma. This is It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It's Waking Ned Devine. It's Raising Arizona and What About Bob? There's even a significant chunk of It's a Wonderful Life in there, with Mardukas as a rather more ambiguous angel seeking Jack's redemption. Speaking of which, Casablanca.
But Midnight Run embraces its cliches to the point of parody. There's a sleazy mob boss (Dennis Farina), a perpetually angry FBI investigator (a very funny Yaphet Kotto), two eccentric bail bondsmen (one of whom, Joe Pantoliano, played Basie's sidekick in Empire of the Sun), and a real-life Horace-and-Jasper. Yet, even with all these exaggerated caricatures, our two main characters manage to find moments of surprising depth amid all the malarkey. (Also amid all the cursing. This movie is rated R primarily because there are 119 F-bombs. The movie is almost inseparable from this fact, and it's hard to excuse it beyond the way that De Niro can make a profanity-laced line sound like a work of art. Well, almost.)
|My second favorite scene - almost completely improvised.|
his in-character Letterman interviews), and consequently has less depth than the many shades De Niro brings to Walsh, but that's not entirely his fault:
Mardukas: "Why don't you get yourself a new watch?"
Walsh: "I'll tell you when I know you better."
Mardukas: "You know me better? When are you gonna to get to know me better? I'm getting to know you better. You're not gonna get to know me better."
Walsh: "Will you shut up?!"
Mardukas: "That's what I mean."Regardless, he's perfectly cast as the sulky, teddy-bear white-collar criminal.
I've gushed for way too long about this. A few last comments: the pacing, script, direction, supporting cast, and wonderful, wonderful soundtrack are all terrific. Characters are drawn with careful eccentricity and - when called for - subtlety. It's immensely quotable. The movie is a bit long - Grodin and De Niro are separated for a while near the end of the movie and things begin to drag. But only a bit.
It's one of the best of its kind, a character drama disguised as a comedy, a morality tale with an affection for all its characters - even the bad ones, an action film glorying in its chase sequences without embracing wanton destruction (I'm looking at you Hobbit).
A (clean) trailer:
Looks like I'm walking.