Wednesday, January 8, 2014
(July 1988, U.S.)
The so-called "buddy road movie" can be traced as far back as Laurel and Hardy, if not earlier. In most cases, comedy is the key element, though one can easily claim that one of the best films ever made of that genre, THELMA & LOUSIE (1991) was hardly funny. Still, we're talking about a film of this kind with Robert DeNiro, so we're likely not only guaranteed funny, but some memorable lines, as well, in that rather infamous DeNiro fashion.
DeNiro is bounty hunter Jack Walsh (strong name, yes?) who's enlisted by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (played by Joe Pantoliano) to bring accountant Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (played by Charles Grodin) back to Los Angeles from New York. "The Duke" has embezzled fifteen million dollars from Chicago mob boss Jimmy Serrano (played by Dennis Farina) before skipping out on the bail posted to get him out of jail. Realizing that nobody gets away with stealing money from the mob, "The Duke" is a prime target by Serrano's men. This assignment comes with a deadline, too. Jack has to bring "The Duke" back within five days, or Eddie defaults on the bond and Jack won't get his money. The job should be easy, but of course, as any road movie would dictate, problems arise with travel beginning with "The Duke's" claim that he's afraid to fly. And so, we move from air travel, to train travel, to bus travel, to stealing cars, trucks and even a biplane...all so one determined man can claim one hundred thousand dollars to open a coffee shop and so one man can just survive the hits against him.
One thing about a film of this sort is the cliché of characters. As most of them go, the two principal characters involved in the trip will often start out not liking each other; just think Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and Steve Martin/John Candy in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987). With enough time, travel and adventure, even the most unpleasant of enemies like DeNiro and Grodin can inevitably become friends, or at the very least, learn to be civil with each other. In the case of MIDNIGHT RUN, friendship is reached and triumph prevails in that Jack gets the money he dreamed of, "The Duke" walks away alive and well, and the mod bad guy is arrested by the good guys. Yes, it's all cliché and formula and I suppose it usually works well if the script justifies itself. In this case, however, Robert DeNiro and some real sharp and witty dialogue in a film directed by the man who gave us BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984) and SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992), Martin Brest (he also gave us GIGLI, too, but we won't talk about that!). DeNiro is clearly having the time of his acting life lightening up and sending up all those "raging bulls" that won him that Oscar eight years prior. Grodin, though not my favorite actor in the world, having a good time with the double-takes and the slow burns is a good, light-hearted character of comedy much in the style of classic funny man Jack Benny (look up who he was!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Walsh: "Where am I? I'm in Boise, Idaho; no, no, no, wait a minute, I'm in Anchorage, Alaska. No, no, wait, I'm in Casper, Wyoming. I'm in the lobby of a Howard Johnson's and I'm wearing a pink carnation."
Eddie Moscone: "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Jack: "I am not talking to you, I am talking to the other guys!"
Eddie: "What other guys?"
Jack: "Well, let me describe the scene to you! There are these guys, see? They've probably been up for like two days, they stink of B.O., they have coffee breath, they're constipated from sittin' on their asses for so long, they're sitting in a van, and they're probably parked right up the street from your office! Eddie, YOUR PHONE IS TAPPED!