THE FILM 4.5/5
“Don’t take this personally, but, fuck off.”
Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a tough ex-cop turned bounty hunter. Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) is a sensitive accountant who embezzled $15 million from the Mob, gave it to charity and then jumped bail. Jack’s in for a cool $100,000 if he can deliver The Duke from New York to L.A. on time…and alive. Sounds like just another Midnight Run (a piece of cake in bounty hunter slang), but it turns into a cross-country chase. The FBI is after The Duke to testify. The Mob is after him for revenge and Walsh is after him to just shut up. If someone else doesn’t do the job, the two unlikely partners may end up killing each other in this hilarious, action-filled ride from producer-director Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop).
The buddy comedy has been a go-to cinematic concept for a while now, only it’s changed forms a little bit since its beginning days when such a thing still fell under the umbrella “screwball comedy.” It Happened One Night, which paired up Claude Colbert’s spoiled heiress with Clark Gable’s more pointed everyman in Frank Capra’s 1934 classic, might not have been the first, but is one of the best examples of opposites working against each other and eventually with each other. The concept has continued consistently, spitting out some classics and some not-so-classics, even appearing in nearly every kind of genre. For broad comedy, we can point to Steve Martin and Johny Candy in John Hughes’ Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. For thrillers, we have Tom Cruise’s hitman and Jamie Foxx’s hapless taxi cab driver engaging in their own kind of philosophy-swapping, uneasy alliance. To a subtler degree, we even have Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, both depending on each other in significant ways, but for every different reasons.
There’s a reason behind the reminder of all this, and it’s because Midnight Run‘s own participants, including its writer, are reticent to label it as a comedy. Perhaps if you caught them on a good day, they might agree that it contains comedic elements, but they actually consider it a fairly dark action drama. This is certainly an interesting interpretation of the finished product, and who are we to argue with the people so intimate with the story and who helped bring it to life? But the reason why this sounds like a strange claim is because Midnight Run is often very funny. Not “soaking socks in the bathroom sink” or “a deer waking up in the backseat” kind of buddy-comedy funny–it’s more pensive, hard-edged, and even dangerous.
Sandwiched in between his mafioso roles in The Untouchables and Goodfellas, De Niro’s turn in Midnight Run becomes easier to appreciate as time goes in and he appears in more and more tepid family comedies, because he approaches Jack Walsh with as much sincerity as he did his Russian steel plant worker Michael in The Deer Hunter. He cared about that role in the same way he cared about this one, but it’s easy to loose sight of that in a film that relies more on situational comedy rather than the starkness of war. Watching De Niro in Midnight Run is watching an actor have tremendous fun playing a smart-assed, not-quite tough guy sitting on top of a mountain of personal problems with which he’s been wrestling for a while now. Pitted against him is Charles Grodin’s Jonathan Mardukas, the so-called thief, whose dry temperament and unassuming personality makes him an excellent foil. Grodin plays the straight man for most of the conflict, but those times when he does exhibit a bit of humor–asking Jack, “Why are you so unpopular with the Chicago police department?” over and over, or that amazing bit where he pretends to be a federal agent at a dive bar–he manages to steal the show with ease.
Midnight Run proved such a success both critically and commercially that three direct-to-television films were produced (Another Midnight Run; Midnight Runaround; Midnight Run For Your Life), with Christopher McDonald stepping into the Jack Walsh role. Director Martin Brest, who enjoyed a brief but fairly consistent career of solid films (Beverly Hills Cop, Scent of a Woman) obviously didn’t take part in these, nor did writer George Gallo, and like most situations of lesser-pedigree sequels, they lacked the kind of spark which made their predecessor feel special.
One idea in the buddy comedy is that two people meet as strangers, and as opposites, and walk away changed by their mutual awakening (and sometimes as friends – bonus!). Midnight Run adheres to that dynamic, but not in any way that feels obligatory. Walsh, who lives his life in isolation and as a miscreant, walks away a better person, whereas Mardukas walks away with a reassurance that not everyone out there in the world is in it for themselves–that not every person, especially those who run in questionable circles–can be bought. Midnight Run wasn’t the first buddy comedy, and it hasn’t been the last, but it is one of the best.
THE PICTURE 4.5/5
As far as picture quality goes, this third release in the newborn Shout! Select label looks phenomenal. The new IP 2K scan does a fine job of neutralizing but never battling with the natural grain. Colors are strong, but textures look very defined. Detail is easily spotted in every frame, right down to the fibers on Charles Grodin’s overcoat. Except for some very slight telecine wobble during the opening credits (which is common), the picture is very stable through ought. As for as high-def releases so, this blows the previous presentation by UK Second Sight out of the water.
THE SOUND 4/5
Midnight Run offers two options: the 5.1 DTS Surround and 2.0 Stereo. Except for the added high-action moments that occur in the film’s second act, the tracks are fairly comparable. Dialogue receives equal amounts of prominence. No issues with the sound to report, either with the 5.1 or the 2.0, although some moments of dialogue on the 2.0 come close to peaking during shouting scenes. Danny Elfman turns in a decidedly non-Danny Elfman musical score, sounding more like ’80s era James Horner or Harold Faltermeyer, which definitely dates the film, but not in any devastating way.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 3.5/5
Regardless of how many Dirty Grandpas De Niro chooses to make during his golden years, he’s always going to be a legend, and the famously shy and reserved actor doesn’t often grant interviews, so Shout! were right to be excited to have obtained one with him and were right to use it as part of their marketing push for this release. The actual interview, however, only runs about eight minutes, most of which features clips from the film complemented by an overly bawdy voice-over attempting to (I think) mimic vintage sizzle reels from the 1970s and ’80s. De Niro only provides a few minutes of input, but none of it is particularly interesting. He recalls the production in very vague terms and does the usual amount of complimenting. His participation feels so slight that they almost feel like deleted scenes from a better interview.
The remaining interviews have been ported over from Second Sight’s UK release, and all of them are varying degrees of interesting. Grodin’s interview, for instance, is a bit tangential (which he admits) but the things he recalls are surprisingly intimate. Yaphet Kottto appears to be literally phoning in his interview, which is presented as audio over still photos. However, you should probably beeline right to the interview with screenwriter George Gallo, who provides a very frank, dry, and funny recollection of his early writing career as well as his work on Midnight Run. This is probably one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen, and for struggling writers, watching this is a must. It runs a hair under 25 minutes, but I could have watched him talk about anything for hours. He says fuck so many times in that lovable greaseball way that he sounds exactly like my father.
The absence of director Martin Brest from these supplements is felt the most, but which isn’t much of a surprise, as he’s been living off the grid pretty much since Gigli wrongfully destroyed his career. (It was bad, yeah, but c’mon–it wasn’t that bad.)
The complete list of special features is as follows:
— NEW 2K Scan From The Interpostive
— NEW Being Jack Walsh – An Interview With Actor Robert De Niro
— We’ve Got The Duke – An Interview With Actor Charles Grodin
— Moscone Bail Bonds – An Interview With Actor Joe Pantoliano
— Hey Marvin! – An Interview With Actor John Ashton
— I’m Mosely! – An Interview With Actor Yaphet Kotto
— Midnight Writer – An Interview With Writer George Gallo
— Vintage “Making Of” Featurette
— Theatrical Trailer
STUDIO: Universal Studios
DISTRIBUTOR: Shout! Factory
THEATRICAL DATE: July 20, 1988
VIDEO STREET DATE: August 23, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 1.85:1
AUDIO: English 5.1 DTS-HD; English 2.0 Stereo
RUN TIME: 127 mins
DVD COPY: N/A
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: N/A
The beloved and critically adored Midnight Run finally has a high-def release with a wealth of extras, although the lack of involvement from director Martin Brest is felt, especially being that the other participants speak of him very fondly. PQ and AQ are excellent, and while it’s somewhat disappointing that Shout! weren’t able to gather together some more original supplements, how desired Midnight Run has been among high-def collectors–and how good it looks and sounds–easily counteracts the amount of recycling going on in the supplement section. This release gets an easy recommendation.
(Thanks to The Digital Fix for the screen grabs.)
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