Director: Martin Brest
Reviewed: 18 January 2014
jamesintexas rating-- ****
I was too young in 1988 when this film came out to see it in the theater (R-rating), and I never caught up with it on HBO growing up because it was a bit too foul-mouthed to show on the one family television around my younger siblings and parents. Catching up with the classic cross-country crime buddy comedy Midnight Run years later, I really took a liking to its sense of fun. The plot features gruff Charles Walsh (Robert De Niro) as a tough bail bondsman in Los Angeles who flies to New York City to bring back a mob informant Jonathan Mardukis, nicknamed The Duke (Charles Grodin). The Duke infamously took his boss's dirty money and donated over fifteen million of it to charity. Naturally, Las Vegas mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) wants The Duke dead, the F.B.I. led by agent Alonso Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) want him to testify, and Walsh must bring him back to LA alive to claim the $100,000 that his boss Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) dangles in front of him to avoid losing the bond he posted on The Duke. That money is enough for Walsh to buy that dream coffee shop that he's always wanted. Oh, and there's Marvin (John Ashton), Walsh's rival in the bail bondsman business, a surly guy always interested in swooping in and taking Walsh's business.
The film starts in New York, heads to Chicago, ends up in the Southwest, and final scenes are in Las Vegas and LA. DeNiro is winning in his role, believable in his physicality, brutally funny playing off of Grodin's Duke. They are a very funny pairing because they are just both really good actors, and a look or gesture conveys so much in a film like this. There's a madcap sense of fun here, with dim-witted mob underlings shooting at FBI agents in the street, nonsensical helicopter chases (it was the 80's, and it seems this was de rigueur for the era), a cacophony of cursing, hilarious characters, and the classic handcuffing yourself to your prisoner bit.
I think I've seen so many examples of this type of film done poorly that it was breathtaking to see it work so well. It is so, so funny. Mosely is always stealing other character's cigarettes. Marvin is delightfully nasty and steals every scene that he is in. The chemistry between De Niro and Grodin works, and the cul de sacs of the plot end up being more thoughtful and open-ended than expected from the genre. It's delightfully R-rated, and collision of personalities makes this one of my favorites. Grodin's dry, laconic, very intelligent Duke sizes up every situation and plays things out to his advantage despite all obstacles. At its core, the film is about two men, each of whom has an individual code that runs counter to their bosses and those that control them. So, naturally, the two rebels should find themselves on the same side of a conflict involving a gangster from Walsh's past. The final climax is effective because it comes from an entire film building up Walsh's value system. The film earns its ending. There's also an absence of schmaltz and canned emotions to the ending that makes it all quite fun without betraying its characters.
Midnight Run is kind of perfect.