Bringing in the bounty of a lifetime seemed like an easy job at first. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t have a movie to watch, would we? 1988’s Midnight Run, directed by Martin Brest (who also directed Beverly Hills Cop), features Robert De Niro as Jack Walsh, a perpetually down-on-his-luck bounty hunter. Formerly a Chicago cop until he was run out of town by a corrupt department for not taking a bribe, Jack now makes his living tracking down fugitives for a Los Angeles bail bondsman, Eddie Moscone. Played by Joe Pantoliano (whose name seems to keep coming up in my reviews lately), Eddie’s a bit of a weasel; in fact, the only more weaselly character is his assistant Jerry (Jack Kehoe).
Eddie has a problem with one of his current “clients”; yet another bailed-out crook has skipped town, leaving Eddie holding the bag for the bail money he put up. But in this case, the crook was Jonathan “the Duke” Mardukas, an accountant who embezzled millions from a suspected Chicago mob boss… so while Eddie was simply handling him for a local L.A. charge, the bond was set at half a million dollars. Eddie needs Jack to bring back Mardukas, or he’s out $500,000 — and so he offers to pay Jack $100,000 to get him in by Friday at midnight. He’s sure that since Mardukas is just an accountant it’ll be a simple job, a “midnight run”. If only.
Jack has little trouble tracking down Mardukas to New York, but that’s the only time in which “little trouble” is an accurate description for this movie. Before Jack can even reach Mardukas, he’s approached by a few other “interested parties”. The FBI, led by Agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) wants Mardukas to testify against the mob boss he embezzled from, one Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), the same man who was responsible for Jack’s ousting from Chicago. And of course if you embezzle from a mob boss and are then suspected to be about to testify, the mob boss is going to be interested in you as well; so Jack is approached by two of Serrano’s thugs (Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda), who attempt to bribe him to bring Mardukas to them. To complicate matters further, Eddie decides to hedge his bets by sending in another, cheaper bounty hunter: Walsh’s frequent rival Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), who is a bragging bungler who has no interest in cooperating with Jack. So there are quickly four different factions out to bring in Jonathan Mardukas.
Plus, of course, there’s Mardukas himself. Played by Charles Grodin (otherwise best known from The Great Muppet Caper), Jon is fussy, neurotic, and unsurprisingly uncooperative with his own capture. He refuses to take a flight back to L.A., citing a fear of flying. He continually takes offense at things that Walsh says, demanding apologies. Grodin and De Niro play off each other perfectly; De Niro does his usual tough guy act, and Grodin subverts it by trying to act like a nice guy and getting on his nerves.
Everybody else is superb in their roles as well. Yaphet Kotto is appropriately intimidating as the FBI agent who frightens even his own subordinates, and Dennis Farina was practically born to play either side in a police/mafia conflict (and appropriately, was doing so; his role as Serrano was filmed while he was playing the role of a detective in Crime Story). Pantoliano works well as a bail bondsman who is only slightly more reputable than his “clients”, and John Ashton is funny as the bounty hunter who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is. The towel error (and if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean) had me laughing out loud for several minutes.
Midnight Run has several great action sequences as well. In fact, just about every significant “chase film” set piece gets used here, and it’s all very well done. Between the action and the humor, and the skilled acting, the film’s 2-hour runtime never seems too long.
Dennis Farina actually was a cop… that might be why he’s such a natural at those roles.
Grodin and De Niro make for a great comic pairing in this movie. They’re hysterical playing off of each other. And as you point out, the movie has a great mix of comedy and action. Mixed in with just enough character establishing/deepening/strengthening stuff to make you really connect with them and care for them.
My only complaint about this piece is I was hoping it would have gotten your full out “Favorite Films” treatment. That’s alright, its cool. One day soon I’ll be MTESSing it for sure…. I LOVE this flick.
Didn’t know that about Farina… that does explain it.
This was the first time I’ve seen it, so no “Favorite Films” treatment on it… and unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to easily find a few press package pictures to spice up the review a bit. I didn’t love it quite as much as you, but it was late and I was starting to get a bit tired, so it might have suffered a bit from factors beyond its control, as it were. We’ll see how this one grows on me in the long run. It’s definitely good, and I can certainly see how it would be some peoples’ favorite.
In my experience, it ages like fine wine.
i picked this one up a few months back, havent seen it yet. now it’s next on my list
I think you’ll get a kick out of it.