Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (1988)


(director: Martin Brest; screenwriter: George Gallo; cinematographer: Donald Thorin; editors: Chris Lebenzon/Michael Tronick/Billy Weber; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Robert De Niro (Jack Walsh), Charles Grodin (Jonathan Mardukas), Yaphet Kotto (FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely), John Ashton (Marvin Dorfler), Dennis Farina (Jimmy Serrano), Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone), Richard Foronjy (Tony Darvo), Robert Miranda (Joey), Jack Kehoe (Jerry Geisler), Wendy Phillips (Gail), Danielle DuClos (Denise Walsh), Philip Baker Hall (Sidney); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Martin Brest; Universal Studios Home Video; 1988)
“The entire cast is superb, each with a good ear for comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Memorable thriller that seamlessly blends into a road and buddy movie that covers familiar turf but does it in a novel and energetic way. The entire cast is superb, each with a good ear for comedy. Director Martin Brest (“Going in Style”/”Beverly Hills Cop”/”Meet Joe Black”) knows how to keep it entertaining, well-paced and well-executed; while writer George Gallo turns in an hilarious screenplay.

Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a gruff, embittered, discredited ex-Chicago cop (kicked out of the corrupt Chicago police force for refusing to take payoffs) working now in LA as a bounty hunter. Weaselly hysterical bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) hires him for a $100,000 fee to bring in bail-jumper Jonathan “Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), a mob accountant charged with embezzling $15 million and who gave a lion’s share of the money to charity. Duke is wanted by both the FBI and Las Vegas residing Mafia kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), with the latter bunch trying to kill him so he doesn’t squeal on their racketeering. Jack also has a history with Serrano, who was then the Chicago mob boss who had the Chicago police department on his payroll while he distributed heroin and when undercover cop Jack tried to pinch him it was Jack who lost his job and the wife (Wendy Phillips) he loved to another cop who knew how to play ball with the connected people and advanced to be a police captain.

Streetwise Jack beats both the FBI and the mob to the Duke, who is hiding with his wife in his NYC hideout. Jack uses the stolen ID from FBI operative boss Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) to arrest Duke and then gets his prized possession (the source he fantasizes of his future coffee shop) aboard a plane to LA only to get bounced from the flight by the pilot because Duke refuses to fly because of his fear of flying phobia. The plan is now to take the Duke cross-country by train. When Eddie learns that there’s no Duke on the flight, he panics that Jack won’t get him there on time and he’ll lose the $450,000 bond he put up–which he claims will put him out of business. Eddie then hires Jack’s nemesis rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) for $25,000 to bring in the Duke without letting Jack know this.

The problems keep mounting for Jack and his handcuffed prisoner as Eddie’s phone is tapped by the FBI, Eddie’s sleazy untrustworthy assistant Jerry Geisler (Jack Kehoe) phones the mafia where Jack is and they send hit men (Richard Foronjy & Robert Miranda) to follow up the tip, and Marvin had Jack’s credit card cancelled and keeps turning up so that Jack’s travel plans have to be constantly changed.

The conversations between the Odd Couple, the volatile ruffian Jack and the chatty sophisticated moralistic Duke, are one for the books, as are their adventures. They include evading in the Arizona desert a highway filled with squad cars in pursuit while the duo is in a pickup truck, Jack nearly drowning while fleeing from the mob in a rapid stream, Jack fighting with the Duke while holding onto the propeller of the stolen small plane that Duke is trying to escape with (as it turns out his flying phobia was a fib), Jack taking down a helicopter hired by the mob, hopping a freight to have Duke ask Jack “Have you ever had sex with an animal?” and all sorts of other thrills along the way to Los Angeles.

“Midnight Run” might be thought of as merely an escapist fun film, but it makes its two lead characters real and turns the fast-paced action comedy into one of the best examples to come out of this popular genre of buddy/road movies.