They don’t belong together.
Over the years director Martin Brest’s Midnight Run has amassed quite a cult following. The film opened in 1988 to solid box office returns (it made not quite triple it’s $35 million price tag), was met with critically good reviews, and then faded off into VHS and DVD. Over time, however, the film found an even larger audience which in turn begat three made-for-TV sequels (Another Midnight Run, Midnight Runaround, Midnight Run For Your Life; all produced in 1994) and talk of a sequel, which never came to fruition.
There’s a reason Midnight Run has grown in stature over the years — it’s a truly fun, action filled comedy that features two fantastic performances from two very different actors. Robert De Niro — still known in 1988 as a dead-serious actor’s actor – plays bounty hunter Jack Wash, who’s enlisted by a shady bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix) to “collect” an accountant, Johnathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin, Real Life). Mardukas has embezzled $15 million from Chicago mob boss, Serrano (Dennis Farina, Big Trouble), and has skipped the $450,000 that Moscone had paid for him. If Walsh can’t get Mardukas back to Moscone, Moscone defaults and is out a sizable chunk of change. Complicating matters is an FBI agent, Alonzo Mosley (Yaphet Kotto, Live and Let Die), who wants Mardukas to be a witness in the case against Serrano. Things go from bad to worse as Walsh catches “The Duke”, but finds traveling with him across country to be the hardest — and most annoying — job of his life.
Midnight Run is a movie that deftly balances action and comedy, making sure that neither element ever overshadows the other. The film’s core is the relationship between De Niro and Grodin, two men who start off barely being able to be in the same room together, much less sitting next to each other in a car or an airplane. De Niro’s Walsh is a stoic, tough-as-nails bounty hunter while Grodin’s Mardukas is a whiny chatterbox who knows how to push all of Walsh’s buttons. In buddy road movies, opposites are always the best way to go, and De Niro and Grodin make for a great team. The supporting cast is equally adept, including the always amusing Joe Pantoliano as Eddie, the bail bondsman who’d double cross as fast as he’d sell out his own mother. A who’s-who line up of character actors populate the film, including John Ashton (Beverly Hills Cop II) as a competing bounty hunter and a dryly funny Yaphet Koto as the FBI director who has zero sense of humor.
Brest understands what makes a movie like this work, with the help of writer George Gallo (The Whole Ten Years). It often feels like the screenplay is dancing around both comedy and action, sometimes interweaving the two, and sometimes letting one take front and center stage. There are a lot of laughs (Grodin’s meltdown on the airplane is classic) along with some thrilling sequences of escape, including a treacherous raging river that predates any CGI embellishment.
Sometimes filmmakers capture lightning in a bottle. While Midnight Run is hardly a perfect film (the middle drags just a bit), this is a good example of all the elements serendipitously coming together to create superior entertainment — the actors are all pitch perfect in their roles, the directing is top notch, and the balance between levity and action is just right. It’s an easy recommendation.
Midnight Run (Blu-ray) has been released by Shout! Select, an offshoot of Shout! Factory, in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p high definition. This Universal catalog title looks exceptional with a solid video transfer. Colors are bright and with bold black levels. Although there are a few minor imperfections in the image, for its age (over a quarter of a century) this transfer gets the job done well. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo. While this soundtrack is solid, it’s not all that exciting – this is a generally front heavy mix without any major directional effects or dynamic range. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Extra features include a batch of new interviews with actors from the film (“Being Jack Walsh: An Interview with Actor Robert De Niro”, “We’ve Got the Duke: An Interview with Actor Charles Grodin”, “Moscone Bail Bonds: An Interview with Actor Joe Pantoliano”, “Hey Marvin!: An Interview with Actor John Ashton”, “I’m Mosley!: An Interview with Actor Yaphet Kotto”), a new interview with the writer of Midnight Run (“Midnight Writer: An Interview with Writer George Gallo”), a vintage “making-of” featurette, and a theatrical trailer for the film.
Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin make for a winning team in a movie that’s as funny as it is faced paced and action packed. Shout Select has produced a very fine looking video transfer and a decent audio mix, plus a fair amount of supplemental material.