Martin Brest’s Midnight Run is an appealingly loose comedy built on a solid premise. It’s a classic, almost clichéd Hollywood scenario: Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is one of the world’s last honest cops, rewarded for his integrity by divorce and demotion to the humiliating (and dangerous) level of bounty hunter. His handler Eddie Moscone (Joe “Joey Pants” Pantoliano) raises the lucrative prospect of One Last Job: to escort chief witness Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) in a federal mob case across the country, pursued both by the feds (led by the imposing and perpetually aggrieved Yaphet Kotto) and the mob (the ageless Dennis Farina) alike.
Walsh has personal business with mob boss Serrano, and so the task quickly becomes a journey of the soul for him. The template is 3:10 to Yuma: an intelligent, articulate “bad guy” travels with gruff and serious “good guy” with money problems and deep-seated resentment for being punished for his honesty. But all this is beside the point. The true pleasure of the movie, and the cause of its continued cult appeal, is all in the actors’ interplay. Grodin has all the hilarious dialog, much of it with the feel of improvisation. In contrast, De Niro seems only equipped to continually retort with “Shut the fuck up,” perhaps by choice to be true to his character as opposed to a failure of creativity. Why has Grodin been in so few movies?
Also of interest is an early score by Danny Elfman, later to gain a reputation for whimsical fantasy music for Tim Burton and The Simpsons. Brest, the director of Beverly Hills Cop, stages a massive multi-car chase approaching the absurdly funny levels of The Blues Brothers.
Midnight Run is actually not all that funny a comedy, not that thrilling a thriller, nor that penetrating a character study. But it is nevertheless great fun to watch, and crying out for a sequel.
Must read: the original Midnight Run shooting script