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).
"I know you all of two minutes and already I don't like you."
"Gee, that's too bad I really like you."
In comedy, it's important to get your odd couple just right. You've got to have the silly man, the guy or gal who throws out the one-liners with ease and is the source of most of the film's comedic hijinks. On the flip side, you've got to have a straight man, someone capable of taking the brunt of numerous jokes and take these jabs in stride. Added to the mix, you need to have a witty yet purposeful screenwriter who knows how to write great dialogue but most importantly well-rounded characters for these personalities to inhabit. Once you've got those three factors in place, the last ingredient to the mix is a skilled director who knows how to balance everything out and make sure the final film never loses focus. Starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin working from a screenplay by George Gallo and directed by Martin Brest, 1988's 'Midnight Run' is the perfect storm of action comedies where all of the elements perfectly fell into place to create cinematic gold.
Life ain't all that easy for burnt out former Chicago cop Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro). After getting run out of town for not going on the take by crime boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), Jack hasn't seen his ex-wife or daughter in nine years and has passed the time running down bail jumpers for sleazy bondsmen like Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano). Even when Jack gets the collar he has to fend off competition from other bounty hunters like Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) just to make a few hundred bucks. But Jack is about to hit the big time and bring in the white whale that will get him out of the bounty hunter racket.
It just so happens Eddie put up the $450,000 bail for Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas. It turns out The Duke was the former accountant to Jimmy Serrano's cover business and jumped bail and Jack is in line to earn 25% off the bond if he brings him back for trial. The Duke just so happened to have stolen over $15,000,000 from Serrano making him a prized commodity to FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) who has been looking to put the collar on Serrano for years. And since Serrano isn't too keen on the prospect of serving a long jail sentence, he's got his best hitmen out looking for The Duke. Worried that Jack can't bring The Duke in on time, Eddie puts Marvin on the trail as well. As fate would have it, Jack finds The Duke first. Now all Jack has to do is get The Duke from New York to LA inside of five days to make his arraignment hearing. What should have been a simple and easy midnight run turns into a cross-country odyssey as the pair dodge bullets, the mob, the FBI and a trigger-happy Marvin. Jack and The Duke would be having a lot of fun with this adventure if they didn't hate each other's guts.
The long and the short of it is that 'Midnight Run' is a near-flawless action comedy. It plays with the buddy-cop genre conventions previously established in films like '48 Hours' and 'Lethal Weapon' while also keeping in tune with the best tropes of a road comedy like 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles.' The film never overplays its hand by edging itself towards being too much of an action film or too much of a comedy. It sits right there in the balancing on a genre tightrope. Director Martin Brest working from the screenplay by George Gallo perfectly sets up all of the major players, all of the scenarios, and deftly maneuvers the lead characters through this intricate plot web without getting tangled up and stuck. By the time the credits roll the audience is left with a film that was at all times funny and wildly entertaining while also delivering some edge of your seat thrills.
Taking center stage for this opus are some of the best performances from both Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. De Niro and Grodin play polar opposites. One man is dirty, disheveled, has a poor diet, smokes too much and yet is as honest as a preacher on Sunday. The other is clean, neat, eats well and enjoys an upper-crust lifestyle while also happening to be a liar and a thief. What makes De Niro and Grodin the perfect comedic duo is that they play their respective roles with a straight earnestness. While Grodin is usually the source for most of the comedic moments, De Niro is always reliable when it comes to delivering some great deadpan humor. Beyond that, these guys are playing very human and relatable characters tossed into a crazy situation and the whole thing becomes that much more entertaining. Both actors shine in this film on their own, but if they didn't have guys like Joe Pantoliano, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, and Yaphet Kotto to interact with the movie would have been a hollow shell of potential.
As I sat down to ingest 'Midnight Run' for what probably amounts to the 100th time, I was struck by the notion of how great Martin Brest was as a director. In film school I got to see the full version of his short student film 'Hot Dogs for Gauguin' and it's clear the man had a knack for balancing tension and humor from the very start. After previously hitting it big with 'Beverly Hills Cop' and then later directing the hit 'Scent of a Woman' and the overly-long but still quite good 'Meet Joe Black,' one would think that Brest would still be a sought after working director today. Sadly the woefully horrendous 'Gigli' slammed his career into a brick wall. With that terrible "Bennifer" film set aside, Brest was still a formidable filmmaker. It's a shame when you watch 'Midnight Run' and realize that 'Gigli' is the reason Brest retired from filmmaking and has become a near-total recluse. I think 13 years has been enough time for Brest to spend in cinematic purgatory. If ever there was a filmmaker I would love to see make an earnest comeback with a solid hit, it would be Martin Brest. It doesn't have to be the best movie ever made, even if all it does is catch 10% of the charm and fun of 'Midnight Run' that would be enough to satisfy me.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Midnight Run' makes its Blu-ray debut in the U.S. courtesy of Scream Factory. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD50 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray case with reversible cover artwork. As part of the new Shout Select branding, it carries the number "3" on the spine. The disc opens directly to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
As a longtime fan of 'Midnight Run,' I started to accept that the film was only ever going to look so good on home video. After a couple rough DVD pressings and watching the HD-DVD disc while I worked at an electronics store in college, I had this sinking feeling that it was never going to be a great looking release on disc. When the foreign market Blu-rays started appearing over the years, that fear was more or less confirmed. Thankfully, Shout Factory's new 2k scan of the interpositive is a vast improvement over any previous home video release I've ever seen. The 1.78:1 1080p presentation retains the film's natural grain structure throughout. Even during some of the opening more problematic darkly lit scenes, the grain finally looks organic rather than appearing overly noisy or like bad pixelation as it once did on DVD. Colors are vibrant and natural looking leading to some good primary presence and natural flesh tones. Details are sharp and clear allowing you to soak in fine facial features and all of the costuming and production design work. Black levels are rich and inky for the most part. The opening moments have what appears to be some baked in crush and contrast issues, but once the film gets moving and the credits have rolled, those issues disappear. This presentation is also free of any distracting damage issues, no speckling or notable scratches present. Honestly, I didn't expect anything from this release. I was thinking we'd get something along the lines of 'Tremors' with caked on edge enhancement, but thankfully that is not a problem with this Blu-ray release of 'Midnight Run.'
'Midnight Run' comes packed with two audio options to choose from, an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. This one is honestly a bit more difficult to pick a favorite. Usually, I drift towards the 2.0 track because they tend to sound more organic with the movie with a better balance between dialogue and the other audio elements but here, it's tougher to call. While the dialogue is a little softer in the 5.1 mix, it brings a more immersive surround experience. Directionality and imaging are fantastic here as there is constant channel movement. Dialogue, as I said is a tad softer, but it keeps to the front/center channels so once you've got your volume at a comfortable level you shouldn't need to adjust things. When the action picks up, atmospherics and sound effects create a great sense of space and distance while Danny Elfman's score rounds out the sides and rears. The 2.0 track does a great job handling a stereo load, there is a nice sense of channel movement but the imaging isn't as strong. The dialogue sounds a little sharper, a little more defined so you won't need to have your volume up as high as I felt the 5.1 needed. Either way you slice it, both audio mixes work well by this film and so it's just going to come down to user taste.
Interview With Robert De Niro: (HD 8:51) This is an odd sort of "interview." The roughly 9-minute clip is mostly made up of scenes from the movie with a rather irritating narrator talking about behind the scenes stuff with the movie. De Niro really isn't given too much to say here except in short little bursts.
We've Got The Duke: Interview With Charles Grodin: (HD 12:24) This is a little more interesting and substantive than the De Niro interview. He talks about how he got cast, what it was like working with Brest, working with De Niro. It's actually kind of fun hearing his no BS attitude towards working and meeting with various people.
Moscone Bail Bonds: An Interview With Joe Pantoliano: (HD 14:19) Pantoliano offers up some great stories about getting cast, working on the film and working with Martin Brest.
Hey Marvin!: An Interview With John Ashton: (HD 17:23) Ashton comes across as very humble and grateful as he recalls getting his first acting gigs and working on 'Beverly Hills Cop' and ultimately 'Midnight Run.'
I'm Mosely!: An Interview With Yaphet Kotto: (HD 7:36) This is a pretty good interview done over the phone with Kotto. It's not very long but it offers up some interesting material.
Midnight Writer: An Interview With Writer George Gallo: (HD 24:43) Gallo offers up a lot of great backstory into getting work as a screenwriter, pitching and writing 'Bad Boys' and ultimately selling 'Midnight Run' and working with Martin Brest on the film.
Vintage "Making of" Featurette: (SD 7:26) Your basic EPK extra material.
Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1:12)
'Midnight Run' is an action comedy classic. While it may not have been the big blockbuster hit that Martin Brest's 'Beverly Hills Cop' was, it still holds up as an example of smart writing, incredible pacing, and pitch-perfect casting. It's always a riot to see De Niro and Grodin play off each other and the film never gets old. Shout Factory's imprint Shout Select knocks this release out of the park. I was blown away by the new image transfer as it exceeded even my most hopeful expectations and the audio is spot on. Add on an hour's worth of great interview material and you have one hell of a great Blu-ray release. I would have loved to see an interview with Martin Brest, but sadly that's probably never going to happen. As it stands, this release of 'Midnight Run' is the one fans have been waiting for. If you've never seen this flick, it's time to treat yourself. Pops some corn, turn down the lights and get comfortable, 'Midnight Run' is highly recommended!