What do you love about films like The Avengers? Is it the visual effects? The endless action sequences? The fact it comes with a pretty comic book label at the front to let you know it’s a legitimate adaptation? No, you’re not interested in any of that beyond a superficial level. You love those films because of the chemistry of the opposing characters on offer, the way Iron Man and Captain America bicker, the way Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon are constantly at odds. So while we all love superhero movies it’s a shame they don’t make original films like Midnight Run anymore. Because the reason you love the current zeitgeist of cinematic enterprises is the reason you still love, or will once you’ve seen it, Midnight Run.
Bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a former Chicago cop who refused a pay-off from a mob boss so was run out of town. Now he picks up people who have skipped bail and his latest target is Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) who he has to have in LA before midnight on Friday in order to claim $100,000. But with The Duke afraid to fly Jack has no choice but to travel cross-country with the FBI, headed up by Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto), mobsters, in shape of the man The Duke stole from Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) and a bounty hunter, Jack’s rival in business Marvin (John Ashton) in constant pursuit.
Midnight Run is one of those films you see once on late night TV and forever love it thereafter. It’s got everything, mad-cap adventure, brilliantly engaging action, comedic, hardboiled dialogue and jokes that keep coming back to have you beaming with delight at the way they’ve worked, yet again. It’s the kind of film that never stops being inventive with its double-crossing conning ways. It’s not about pulling the rug from beneath our feet but rather keeping characters all on theirs.
George Gallo’s script is endlessly quotable but more than anything it’s the characters who keep you utterly hooked. Martin Brest knows a bit about having good buddy banter at the heart of a film, see his Beverly Hills Cop as a prime example of how to get it right and his Gigli of how to mess it up, and Midnight Run is always loveable as a result. What’s more, it has one of the most satisfying endings this side of Casablanca’s “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship”.
Grodin has never been better than the eye-rolling, constantly exasperated Duke. His puppy-dog eyes at almost any given situation are enough to keep you smiling while his muttering to himself will often bring a genuine laugh. John Ashton is wonderfully gruff and haphazard as the always-one-step-behind bounty hunter while Joe Pantoliano does shouty angst better than anyone. Of course De Niro is the star attraction and, unlike his more recent comedy fair, he more than delivers. It helps that he is essentially playing the straight guy but his tough-as-nails, ever-frustrated Jack is endlessly endearing and the level of emotion that De Niro is able to convey through even the most hostile interactions are a constant highlight.
Midnight Run more than stands the test of time and makes you long for the days where films found a solid character basis to have you invest rather than throwing money at expensive, shallow CGI.