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.