Midnight Run – 25 Years Later

Midnight Run movie

A gem of a movie got released in July of 1988.

Back in the summer of ’88 audiences were treated to a pretty diverse crop of movies. There was a nice mix of films and you were sure to find something that you would like. On the lower end there were flicks that might have sounded promising from their commercials and trailers and you got tricked to go see them and never watched them again.

Audiences as usual got a healthy helping of sequels that summer – Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, “Crocodile” Dundee II,  Rambo III, Poltergeist III, Arthur 2: On the Rocks, The Dead Pool, Caddyshack II and Short Circuit 2.

There was the reliable action flicks – Shakedown, The Presidio, Red Heat, Hero and the Terror.

Comedies – Big, Funny Farm, Bull Durham, Big Business, Coming to America, The Great Outdoors, A Fish Called Wanda, License to Drive, Married to the Mob.

Not to mention a further grab bag of selections – Willow, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cocktail, The Blob, Clean and Sober, Waxwork, The Last Temptation of Christ, Monkey Shines, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Young Guns.

What a list! There’s some future classics, moderate successes and forgotten flicks in there.

I happened to catch a bit of Hero and the Terror on television not too long ago. Yikes! Not one of Chuck’s best. But it’s a quite an eclectic list of flicks and plenty of choices of stuff to go see. The summer movie season really seemed jampacked years ago. And not a superhero to be found anywhere too.

Rober DeNiro in Midnight Run 1988
Walsh and his new ID

Amongst this plethora of cinematic releases was one film that at the time didn’t get a heck of a lot of attention, but since first seeing it that summer it has maintained a ranking on my favorite comedy movie list – Midnight Run, the action/comedy starring Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin teaming up for one of the funniest, best road movies ever.

DeNiro plays Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter who has dreams of leaving behind this ugly racket and opening his own little coffee shop one day. Could you imagine if DeNiro had got in on the ground floor of the coffee craze back then and ended up being the king of the caffeinated world today! I would be much more excited heading to Walsh’s Coffee Shop to watch his chain-smoking character drop F-bombs and berate patrons who were holding up the line than hanging out at a boring Starbucks!

Anyway, Jack finally gets a big enough job and an opportunity to make a ton of money when bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) enlists him to deliver a mob accountant back to L.A. within five days. As Eddie says it’s an easy gig, ‘a midnight run’. Once Jack gets this crooked accountant back Eddie is willing to pay Walsh a hundred grand. That would be enough for Jack to leave the life of chasing dead beats around and maybe make that coffee shop happen.

Fortunately for us this job isn’t as easy as Eddie lets on. Very quickly Jack is approached by FBI Agent Alonso Mosely (Yaphett Kotto) who wants Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) to testify against the heavy duty mobster Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). As luck would have it Jack is awfully familiar with Serrano from some dealings with him in the past. Mosely doesn’t want Jack interfering and if he ever finds The Duke demands Jack hand him over to his sunglasses-wearing team.

Joe Pantoliano and DeNiro

Serrano wearing ugly sweaters and living the life in Las Vegas obviously doesn’t want this ‘Duke’ to make any trouble for him, so he has a pair of goons –  ‘Moron Number One’ and ‘Moron Number Two’ – to do away with Mardukas before he can make it to L.A.

Meanwhile, Moscone is not too thrilled with having to part with a hundred grand to pay Jack for this ‘midnight run’, so he hires rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) to get the Duke away from Jack for a smaller fee.

All these characters are able to closely follow Jack and The Duke’s whereabouts from FBI wiretaps and the doughnut-loving snitch Jerry (Jack Kehoe) who’s working right alongside Eddie. Jack and the Duke are constantly in the sights of one, if not all of these opposing characters who are trying to catch them and/or kill them. As if all that’s not enough to handle, Jack learns that Mardukas could possibly be the most annoying companion he could ever have the misfortune of traveling with.

Robert DeNiro Charles Grodin Midnight Run 1988
Walsh and ‘The Duke’

The duo embark on a cross country adventure where their every choice of travel gets complicated. Airplanes, trains, buses, no money, our two leads drive each other crazy as they try to survive a neverending run of obstacles and characters attempting to stop them.

The story sounds somewhat formulaic – character has to escort a prisoner across the country and others try to stop them. But it’s the casting, chemistry and turns the story takes that make Midnight Run so special. Along with a wonderful score by Danny Elfman. For those who are most familiar with Elfman’s work with Tim Burton, they’d probably never have guessed Elfman wrote the music in the film.

Up to this point comedies were not something DeNiro often did. Other than The King of Comedy and his performance in Brazil, getting laughs wasn’t something he would do much.

Midnight Run 1988 action comedy classic
DeNiro proves he can get laughs as Jack Walsh

After just having played Al Capone in The Untouchables DeNiro wanted to try to switch things up and do a comedy. He was just as committed to his role in this action/comedy as his more dramatic, heavier parts.

He did his usual research, got himself in shape and rode around with real life bounty hunters in preparation for the role. All of it pays off and he ends up giving a terrific performance, is very funny and makes Jack Walsh a very real, likable character. I like the guy, even when he’s battering Charles Grodin around.

I often hear younger movie fans talk about DeNiro in comedies and it’s always his more recent films that get sited. The Meet the Parent flicks, Analyze This, all these random appearances he’s made in smaller comedies – where most of the time he’s there just spoofing his tough guy screen persona for silliness. I always think to myself his performance in Midnight Run easily blows those flicks away with the funny.

Grodin had been acting for a long time by 1988. He had mainly been a supporting character actor in a wide range of films from Rosemary’s Baby, Catch-22 and King Kong. His biggest film role was playing the lead in The Heartbreak Kid after which he settled into doing light comedies like, Seems Like Old Times, The Lonely Guy and let’s not forget The Incredible Shrinking Woman!

Midnight Run 1988 action comedy classic
Grodin handcuffed – like he is in most of the film

There was a host of other candidates the studio preferred to play the role of the Duke. Actors with more cache at that

time. At one point Cher was even considered. However, director Martin Brest loved Grodin’s audition, saw a unique chemistry when he saw him with DeNiro and Grodin got the part.

Grodin is perfect as the Duke. He’s funny in his deadpan annoying way and alongside DeNiro’s Walsh creates a character I’m happy to join on a cross country adventure with – or at least watch Walsh try to deal with him.

It’s funny how sometimes with a movie those crucial casting decisions occur and will help determine the end result. Had another actor been cast in the role of the Duke, Midnight Run would have been a totally different experience.

I remember reading about some of Grodin’s anecdotes while shooting Midnight Run and it wasn’t exactly the easiest job. He got pretty beaten up throughout the production. At one point he came close to drowning shooting the scene in the rapids when that overcoat of his started weighing him down and nearly pulled him under.

Most of the time he’s handcuffed in the movie and DeNiro – being the method guy that he is – asked him to wear real ones in a lot of the scenes. Getting dragged, pulled and yanked by his co-star left scars on Grodin’s wrists from those cuffs that supposedly he still has today.

Yacht Kotto Robert DeNiro Midnight Run 1988
FBI agent Alonso Mosely and Walsh trading barbs
and comparing sunglasses

The cast Brest puts together are firing on all cylinders. They all strike a relaxed, easygoing tone that makes simple exchanges and scenes spark with the actors onscreen. The dialogue scenes become just as exciting to watch as the action. They’re all terrific.

Kotto gets laughs with his slow burns, cold stares and an ongoing sunglasses gag. Ashton is arrogantly confident for such a stupid character. Pantoliano yells and rants and you know he’s a guy you can’t trust from the moment you meet him. The pair of hoods Tony and Joey offer up their own fun, with Joey providing some hysterical off-the-cuff remarks. And Farina is a no-nonsense tough guy who says some of the funniest and strangest threats you could ever hope to hear.

The film is packed with memorable, funny lines. Movie fans love to quote lines from their favorite movies and Midnight Run has no shortage of insults, exchanges, threats and comebacks that would fill that need. Actually thinking about the film scene by scene – I think there might a quote-worthy line uttered by someone in every single scene.

Of course the film has car chases too

Most of the funniest lines – even just regular dialogue – are assisted with the liberal use of the F-word. It should have been given its own credit alongside the cast. According to IMDB.com ‘fuck’ is used 119 times in the movie, counting the variations of it naturally. I believe at the time of its release it held the record for most number of times the word was used in a movie. At least that’s what I had read.

I was always curious about how much of the scenes were improvised by the actors. Most of the scenes play out so spontaneously that I suspect the actors just started playing off each other and Brest kept the best stuff.

The profanity is so vitally weaved within the fabric of the film watching it on regular television was a real surreal experience. There’s really no way of cleaning up all the language and making it come off as natural and as funny. It just played as ridiculous.

Watching a character say “Shut the foul up”, doesn’t pack as big of a punch and just sounds awfully weird. But it’s not just the profanity that makes the dialogue crackle and makes it all funny, it’s the way the actors deliver their lines. Lacing the lines with profanity is just an added bonus.

Dennis Farina in Midnight Run 1988
Who knew gangsters kept cream soda on hand

I’m not going to start listing the memorable lines from the movie – that would fill up this whole blog. So I’ll let fans of the film chime in with their favorite ones. I’ll start off saying that one of my favorites is Farina trying to calm down his worried lawyer Sydney played by Phillip Baker Hall.

“Sydney sit down, relax, have a sandwich, drink a glass of milk, do some fuckin’ thing will ya.”

Amongst the action and comedy there’s a nice friendship that grows between Walsh and the Duke. Well, maybe not exactly a friendship, but a mutual respect.

When they first meet they naturally don’t get along. Then gradually as the story unfolds and Mardukas learns more about Jack – things that Jack obviously doesn’t like talking about – a bond forms between these two guys.

Mardukas’ noble stand that he has taken against Serrano and the risk he has put himself in forces Jack to question some of the decisions he’s made and is currently making and whether it goes with what his principles really are.

Robert DeNiro Charles Grodin in 1988 Midnight Run
The unlikeliest companions

This doesn’t come off sappy or forced either, since Jack can just as quickly go back to screaming at the Duke at any moment. But there’s this sympathy and understanding that starts to connect these two guys.

There’s these little throwaway moments that show tough guy Jack starting to break down little by little and shows he’s starting to like Mardukas. For instance, there’s a moment when Jack tucks the tails of the Duke’s coat inside making sure it’s clear of the car door. I love that little moment! He would never have bothered doing that when he first met this guy.

Speaking of their clothes, Grodin wears this brown wool overcoat and DeNiro sports a cool leather jacket (goat skin?) for the entire film. I always thought it might have been fun for Halloween to find a buddy and dress up as Walsh and the Duke. Slap a pair of handcuffs on him, drag him around and see if anyone would pick up on who we were supposed to be. Yeah, it’s a pretty square idea.

When I saw DeNiro in Ronin ten years later he was wearing such a similar black leather jacket I kept thinking about how he looks like Jack Walsh. It started to distract me from watching that movie.

I could go on talking about Midnight Run, which actually I wouldn’t mind. Just thinking back on the movie is making me smile. The previous year another great road movie arrived – Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Pairing those two together would make a great double feature!

Grodin and DeNiro

The ‘buddy movie’ was a popular genre back in the 1980s. It’s a simple enough concept. Get two actors, pair them up as cops or something, let them loose and hopefully we’ll enjoy watching them together. With any luck the chemistry between them and the movie they’re dropped into will be a success. Midnight Run is definitely one of those instances where everything just clicked.

For the longest time Midnight Run seemed like this little movie not a lot of people had seen. I would recommend it to people and they would tell me they had never heard of it. I would always get a satisfying feeling after convincing someone to check it out who wasn’t familiar with it at all, hearing a few days later they had watched it and how much they enjoyed it.

Thanks to the whole internet thing and messageboards and all that nifty community, computer-type of stuff movielovers can gather and talk movies more easily. Now it’s much easier to see that the film has maintained devoted fans and attracted new ones who have discovered it through the years. But it still remains this hidden treasure of a film that a lot of people aren’t aware of.

The Duke forcing Walsh to make a
tough decision

Obviously other sets of actors have been thrust together for wacky adventures since Midnight Run. It’s such a simple formula, but I can’t think of any similar-type of films in the last twenty-five years that have come close to the glorious hilarity that is Midnight Run. It falls into my favorite comedy pairings hitting the road together alongside The Blues Brothers and Planes, Trains. It never fails to make me laugh.

I’ve seen some movies that looked like they were inspired or were trying to emulate the comedy pairings of the 80s and updating the road movie concept. I couldn’t bring myself to watch The Bounty Hunter which looked like a horrible version of Midnight Run. Gerald Butler and Jennifer Aniston, handcuffs, they travel. Wow that looked bad. It would be like if I was in hell and desperate to find a copy of Midnight Run and every version of it had been replaced with The Bounty Hunter. The devil would be laughing his ass off at me.

I always hoped Midnight Run would get a nice shiny DVD release with lots of interviews and a commentary by the director and the cast. I don’t know why it never has.

Midnight Run 1988 publicity photo
A pretty cool shot of DeNiro and Grodin

This was definitely Martin Brest’s masterpiece. I think it’s much funnier than Beverly Hills Cop. I don’t know what happened with Brest, I don’t hear about him anymore. Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black and after Gigli he disappeared. I guess he really took the heat for it being a flop or something.

DeNiro is at his comedic best in Midnight Run. Fans can have all the Meet the Parents movies they want I’ll take this film. Whenever I think of Grodin, no matter what awful films he’s appeared in since or becoming a talk show host, his role as the Duke is the first think I always think of him as.

Yes, the proposed sequel – ‘Midnight Run 2’. I have no idea where we’re at with that. DeNiro seemed to be the only player from the original ready to reprise his role. I had read at one point the sequel would involve Walsh and the Duke’s son. Then later I read Grodin might, possibly put in an appearance. Brest doesn’t seem like he would be involved and the one director I had heard who was attached to it at one point was Brett Ratner.

Oh boy.

Fans will remember they did do a series of TV movie sequels to Midnight Run. Another Midnight Run, Midnight Runaround and Midnight Run for Your Life, which all aired in 1994. I guess they were kind of trying to have fun with the title like the recent Die Hard movies. Christopher McDonald played Walsh and Dan Hedaya was Eddie.

I recall watching a few minutes of one, not getting into it and never looking back.

Midnight Run 1988 action buddy comedy
The pair catching a ride

As for this big screen sequel….it’s probably not a good idea. I can’t imagine it being very worthwhile. And once I hear they’re throwing a ‘son’ into the mix, it just signals to me an obvious attempt to court younger viewers with the inclusion of a younger character, e.g. Mutt Williams.

I don’t even know who a sequel is meant to be made for. It’s not like the original Midnight Run was a huge blockbuster, so I don’t know why the studio would be too psyched to make it.

I doubt general audiences today would have much interest in it and the title ‘Midnight Run‘ probably doesn’t mean much of anything to them and doesn’t have a lot of cache. I doubt they’d be able to recapture the magic the first film had and would be able to satisfy fans of the original. This whole idea seems pretty odd.

Midnight Run airport endingIt reminds me of Blues Brothers 2000, a sequel no one asked for, was not very good, was quickly forgotten and ended up being a minor footnote in the legacy of the original film.

At the very least if this sequel does ever go through maybe us fans of the original will finally get a souped up, deluxe version of Midnight Run on DVD and Blu-Ray with a lot of cool extras.

Anyway, Midnight Run fans it’s time to take a moment and fondly recollect your favorite scene from this action/comedy classic – at least I consider it a classic! And if you haven’t ever seen Midnight Run – WATCH IT!

I’ll end by saying, after all this time since first seeing Midnight Run, I regret I still haven’t gotten around to trying Chorizo and eggs.

Maybe in the next life.


 

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7 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Charles Grodin said the script was the best he had ever read.

  2. Numinous says:

    I re-watched 'Midnight Run' two years ago. It's still holds up remarkably well. Martin Brest gave the film a slick pace and sure-handed direction. The cast are just terrific and it's great fun. A really exemplary demonstration in how to do this kind of film.

  3. Marshalsify says:

    The theatrical trailer for the film shows several scenes which were not included in the final cut, for example, shortly after Jack (Robert De Niro) has captured Jonathan (Charles Grodin) for the first time, there is a scene where they are driving down a city street at night, and Mardukas tries to escape from the car, causing Jack to point his gun at Mardukas and tell him to make himself comfortable, to which Mardukas responds "I'm very comfortable." another scene involves Jack, Jonathan and Marvin (John Aston) in the car trying to escape from the helicopter, and Jack turns around and yells "They're gaining on us," to which Mardukas responds "Of course, they're gaining on us, they're in a helicopter." a third scene occurs when Jack and Mardukas get the lift from the Native Americans, and as they are traveling along the road a Native American asks them if they travel a lot, to which Jack and Mardukas look knowingly at one another.

  4. spaceodds says:

    A brilliantly written dedication to a masterpiece of 80s Hollywood cinema. I would go far to say that is the best buddy film of the 80s, the reason being that the friendship between Walsh and Mardukas is slow burning and actually has many twists and turns i.e. you never know who is going to either save or betray whom. The situations are hilarious, the actors are spot on and a hit (and in the case of John Ashton's Marvin, the poor guy can't get through a day without getting punched)

    The film is also a technically accomplishment, the editing and the cinematography are superb and a prime example of how old school celluloid had a sense of comfort to the viewer. Looking at this film, and Brest's follow up Scent of a Woman, you see a mixture of cold and warm colors that gives the viewer a sense of nostalgic comfort that late 80s and early 90s cinema had that was accessible to almost anyone. It's a shame that the wonders of digital film making of the present day has pretty much pushed this maxim out of the frame. Danny Elfman's score for this film is the best he has ever produced, his eclectic mixture of blues and country is a classic and is so unique from his signature bombastic and surreal work. Every time I listen to the soundtrack, I often wonder what if someone took Tim Burton away from his fantastical comfort zone and dropped him off in the middle of the desert with two brilliant actors, an old fashioned Arri celluloid camera and told him to take make a film without his usual bag of tricks? I wonder how it'll turn out.

    Anyhow back to the topic, its impossible not to mention the film's director Martin Brest. The man hit the big time with the decent Beverly Hills Cop (Eddie Murphey's best film) hit his high notes with this film and Scent of a Woman. Meet Joe Black has its fans (and I'm proud to say that I am one of them) and its haters, but the Bennifer starring Gigli was awful to say the least. Its a shame that Brest has only directed five films in thirty odd years and from the look of it Gigli pretty much ruined his already fragile reputation. Brest has become the new John Hughes, a brilliant and sensational early career that pretty much went dormant due to the first sniff of failure, followed by a self imposed exile from film making.

    In conclusion I have to say my favorite scene is the very end with the taxi driver humoring Walsh's question of whether or not he had change for a $1000 dollar bill. A brilliant simple premise of a film, that became a masterpiece due to the talents in front and behind the camera.

    Patrons can keep their Meet the Parents or Fockers or whatever and their Analyze this and that, this is the De Niro comedy of the ages and one that has stood the test of time.

    Now here's hoping for a brilliant blu-ray release.

  5. Luke says:

    Thanks for informing me about this film. I just watched it for the first time recently and it was a blast. Just a ton of fun with likeable characters and some great lines. I was smiling pretty much the whole way.

  6. CKulik says:

    I agree with spaceodds that this probably the best buddy action film out there and certainly Martin Brest's masterpiece as you say; I've seen it over a dozen times and it remains hilariously entertaining every single time. John Ashton's Marvin is hands down my favorite character, and that of course comes with his lines.

    "Can I at least have some French fries?"…."I said no pecker-breath, now SHUT UP!"
    "Why don't you quit? It would be cheaper for both of us!"

    By the way, my mother (who passed away in 2007) hated films with excessive language, particularly ones with dozens of f-bombs. MIDNIGHT RUN was practically the only exception, as she loved the characters and couldn't stop laughing throughout.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I just bought the Blu Ray from Shout Factory, having not seen it in over ten years. Man does Midnight Run hold up. I imagine the script itself didn't read as laugh out loud funny; there's no pratfalls or gags or over-the-top characters. The film has a very honest tone; not every scene tries to be funny – it's funny through the sheer likability of the characters.

    I also recommend watching Brest's first film "Going in Style" about a group of aging bank robbers. Another film that balances humor and tenderness.

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