These days the idea of Robert DeNiro headlining a comedy comes with a sense of dread. It’s a sign of a deeply lazy performance coming from one of the great American actors. Hard though it may be to believe, that wasn’t always the case. Back in 1988 when Midnight Run hit screens, it was a hell of novelty. Sure, DeNiro had been funny in movies before (most notably the painful cringe comedy of King Of Comedy), but never anything straight. Suddenly here he was headlining the follow up feature from Martin Brest after the massive success of Beverly Hills Cop (which made more money than even Ghostbusters in 1984, even though few remember). The strange hitman tale remains one of the best buddy flicks in Hollywood history, getting it’s laughs out of unexpected deadpan realism and DeNiro committing to punchlines with the same deadly serious passion he bought to so many 70s genre movies.
So DeNiro stars as an ex-cop turned hitman who is great at his job, but not so great at being a person. A desperate bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano in a bit of a breakout role) puts DeNiro on the case of a missing mob accountant and given that he’s played by Charles Grodin, there’s plenty of nasty sarcasm and bickering to follow. Next thing ya know, the duo are on the road pursued by a competing bounty hunter (John Ashton), the mob (lead by a fantastic Dennis Farina) and the FBI (led by Yaphet Kotto). Cue laughs and action and bonding and twists and all the good stuff that makes up genre movie entertainment.
Midnight Run is about as perfect as a straightforward buddy movie can be. The laughs are constant, yet no one in the cast is really playing up the comedy. It’s Charles Grodin (he of the driest wit known to man) and a collection of character actors, so everyone deadpans and treats things seriously. That includes director Martin Brest, who shoots it all with a loosely improvised style and plays the action as straight as the performances. So the thrills are intact and the Hollywood absurdity retains a certain level of authenticity. It’s a joy, especially watching DeNiro deliver a genuine performance in the midst of all the silliness, while Grodin gently needles him to the point of insanity.
If anyone in Hollywood wants to know how to deliver top shelf entertainment without a single superhero or CGI effect sequence in sight, Midnight Run would be an ideal teaching tool for that lost art. The flick gets everything right, even though it’s shooting for middlebrow. There’s a certain perfection to that which is impossible to deny and easy to be seduced by. It would be nice if these movies came back and given how relatively cheap it would be to make a Midnight Run these days, it’s not impossible.
As expected, the movie looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. Shout Factory clearly took time and care to transfer the movie to HD. Obviously, it’s a character driven piece, so there aren’t many beauty shots to admire in 1080p. But even so, it’s as good as we could expect and the company went out of their way to stack this disc with special features. So there’s plenty to enjoy, even if Martin Brest is sadly absent. It would have been nice to hear from him since the guy has essentially vanished off the face of the earth, but I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
Robert DeNiro delivers an 8-minute interview and you better believe that he lives up to his mumbly, antisocial reputation. Through a handful of half completed thoughts, DeNiro barely remembers the movie even admitting that he hasn’t watched it in a while. Shout actually resorts to adding a voiceover and music to DeNiro’s interview to make it go by a reasonable clip. It’s kind of priceless, if only by accident. Unsurprisingly, Charles Grodin is the exact opposite in his 20 minute interview. He’s dryly comedic and oddly confessional, taking the opportunity to tell anecdotes about his life as much as the movie (which he does claim is his favourite, but don’t expect any reason why. That would require him to drop the dry humour). Joe Pantoliano pops up next with a 14-minute recollection of his time on the film. This one is amusingly personal and reflective. He talks about seeing DeNiro in New York long before his character acting career turned off and the strange journey that got him the part. The guy is a natural storyteller, so it’s an absolute delight.
Next, John Ashton sits down for a 17 minute interview, which is appropriate given that the movies he did with director Martin Brest were the highlight of his career. It’s a jolly affair encompassing his entire career. Yaphet Kotto pops up with a 7-minute phone interview, discussing how much he enjoyed the opportunity to do a comedy and working with Brest. Screenwriter George Gallo delivers for the longest interview at 24-minutes, talking up his entire brief career including his strange relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson and how that introduced him to Martin Brest and the creation of Midnight Run. It covers the most ground of the making of the movie (including how close it came to Cher playing Charles Grodin’s role), since Martin Brest sadly wasn’t involved in the disc. The only contribution you’ll see from him is an archival EPK, which is a shame. A commentary would have been great. Though I suppose the fact that the entire disc is dedicated to the character actors who made this strange little movie work so well is entirely appropriate.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
It’s a pretty great disc for an under-appreciated comedy/thriller that deserves to be more fondly remembered. Hopefully this fantastic disc from Shout Factory will help.