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Midnight Run
1988 - R - 115 Mins.
Director: Martin Brest
Written By: George Callo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Joe Pantoliano, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina
Review by: John Ulmer
"Yeah? Well I've got two words for you--shut the f**k up!"
- Jack Walsh, "Midnight Run"

Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin play two mismatched road buddies in Martin Brest's "Midnight Run"--they both share the same disrespect for scum like the Mafia but little else is similar amongst them. The two have a quiet chemistry that is sometimes hidden underneath the shouting matches they throw between one another. The F-word is used as both an adjective and as punctuation in this film--and sometimes the jokes rely solely upon the swearing as a punch line--unusual for a comedy.

De Niro is Jack Walsh, an ex-cop who makes his living nowadays by bringing in criminals and receiving hefty sums from a loan shark named Eddie (Joe Pantoliano). He's been hired to go find Jonathan Mardukas (Grodin), an accountant who stole 15 million dollars from a Mafia kingpin (played by Dennis Farina) who is eager to get his money back. Eddie put out bond money for Mardukas, too, and was never paid back--he wants the cash before Mardukas is found and killed.

Walsh does find Mardukas in New York City, and transports him to an airport, long after being confronted by the FBI agent Mosley (Yaphet Kotto), who wants Mardukas for himself. Of course Walsh has no intentions of handing him over to the FBI--and so as the plane is about to take off Mardukas freaks and says he has phobias about flying, not to mention claustrophobia and, if I understood correctly, arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Walsh doesn't believe him at first. ("If you don't shut up you're gonna have fistaphobia!") Then he does. And the pilot of the plane tells him that he is not allowed to transport criminals on a plane without their consent. (Oh yeah, did I tell you that Walsh stole Mosley's badge and replaced it with his picture?)

Eddie starts to get worried that Jack is screwing things up (although he uses a different word for it). He sends another bounty hunter, Marvin, after Mardukas--and so now Jack Walsh has the FBI, Mafia, and a bounty hunter on his tail. And Mardukas is tugging along behind.

I originally saw "Midnight Run" a little less than a year ago. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin are two of my favorite actors, and so I had extreme expectations that were simply not met. Now I watched it again last night and it grew on me much more--the fight scenes didn't seem as corny and the dialogue didn't seem as weak as before. Charles Grodin remains one of the best subtle comedians of all time. His face, his voice, everything. Here he's not as dark and pessimistic as he usually is. Jack Walsh is much more pessimistic. Mardukas is the voice of reason. He is soft and ironic. He easily gets into wordy debates with Walsh. We feel that Mardukas has some sort of mind control over Walsh--like he's butter in his hands. He can easily tweak with his mind. Grodin is perfect for the role.

De Niro as the hardbitten bounty hunter is equally terrific and impressive. Always wearing that De Niro smirk on his face, he walks around with Grodin tagging behind and looks like he's seen it all. He delivers some of the best punchlines. De Niro is perhaps my favorite actor of all time, if it is not a sin to indulge in the fact. This movie shows that he can handle comic timing as well as any comedian out there. And the serious face amidst the crazy antics just cracks you up.

I don't know how many times I heard the F-word in "Midnight Run," but sometimes it acts as the best punctuation and punch line in the film. De Niro says, "Shut the f**k up!" an uncountable number of times. Then, on an overnight freight train, the two men's slow-growing bonding finally starts to seal itself up, and Grodin starts to playfully imitate a conversation between the two of them. (Grodin: "'Jack, how much longer will this take?' 'Shut the f**ck up!’ 'I'm hungry.' 'Shut the f**k up!'")

Martin Brest, who also directed the cop-buddy film "Beverly Hills Cop," knows how to handle the scenes. He lets De Niro and Grodin do their thing and it works. The camera catches their arguments and they look and sound pretty darn real. Brest later went on to direct "Meet Joe Black" and the truly disastrous "Gigli," a film many may never forgive him for unleashing upon the public. But back in 1988 he had skill--it shows through in "Midnight Run."

This movie came out a year after my favorite comedy of all time, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," a film I manage to mention in every one of three reviews (don't take that too literally, folks). "Midnight Run" is very similar. They travel by plane (almost), train, and automobile. They have to make it back by midnight in four days. "Midnight Run" is more action-oriented than "Planes...” and not quite as witty with its script. It's "Lethal Weapon" meets "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"--but the action never outplays the two lead actors, who carry along the movie with such humorous and realistic hostile friendship towards one another, and who stop only long enough to spew friendly hatred at one another, it is like revisiting old friends every time you see it. I just found another movie to add to my DVD collection.

Note: Something that Charles Grodin said mid-way through the film regarding Jack Walsh and the other bounty hunter, Marvin, struck me as the perfect ending for my review: "You two are the dumbest bounty hunters in the world! You couldn't transport a bottle of milk!" But yet by the end of the film the milk--or man, in this case--is delivered safely. And the climax is the kind of rare, touching ending that just isn't made nowadays. I miss these movies.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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