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MIDNIGHT RUN - Comedy Done Right

Yesterday, gave kudos to a well-done sci-fi/time travel film, Time After Time. Today, a heap of praise for a comedy which remains on the back shelf of American cinema for reasons unexplained for more than 30 years.

Midnight Run, directed by Martin Brest, stars Robert DeNiro (His last good role?), Charles Grodin (under control for the first time since Heaven Can Wait), Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, and Yaphet Kotto. It hit theaters in 1988, and was the first perfect comedy since Young Frankenstein in 1975. Yet, quizzing even Baby Boomers about the film draws mostly looks of genuine puzzlement. The movie did not do great box office and got lukewarm reviews. It did not receive a 25 year anniversary re-release in 2013. Not expecting a golden jubilee in 2038.

Unfortunate because Midnight Run is easily a top 25 AFI comedy. It is not on the list officially, but should be. It is superior to Tootsie (Jesus, what comedy on the list isn't?) and at least as good at The Apartment.

In celebration of the 35 year anniversary of Midnight Run, here's a glowing review. Perhaps it will motivate some to finally watch this classic.

Robert DeNiro is Jack Walsh, a disgraced former Chicago police officer and a burned out bounty hunter. Jack works the L.A. circuit now, picking up parole violators and bail jumpers for a duplicitous bondsman named Eddie Moscone (A transcendent Joe Pantoliano), and his assistant Jerry (Jack Kehoe).

Moscone has a big problem, and it's called Jonathon Mardukas. Seems "The Duke" embezzled about 15 million dollars from a Chicago mobster named Jimmy Serrano (Another transcendent performance by Dennis Farina), BUT Mardukas has skipped out on his trial and gone into hiding. Moscone is holding a $450,000 bail bond, upon which he will default if Jack doesn't find Mardukas and bring him back to Los Angeles to stand trial. The Duke is an accountant, a soft family man, who took the $15 million and gave it all to charity. He is not a vicious, armed criminal with a felony track record. And Jack has a WHOLE WEEK to do this.

Hence, the midnight run. A term used to describe an easy gig in the world of the bounty hunter.

Mardukas turns out to be nothing remotely like a midnight run.

Martin Brest's thrilling direction takes the viewer from New York City, where Mardukas has been hiding, to Ohio, to Chicago where a shootout of epic scale ensues between the FBI and the mob, to El Paso, Texas to Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

Along the way via plane, train, bus, automobile, train, and plane, Walsh and Mardukas are pursued by two of the most inept button men in mafia history. The character actors Robert Miranda and Richard Foronjy play Joey and Tony, who spend the entire film getting in each other's way, and annoying their boss, Jimmy Serano. John Ashton, as Marvin Dorfler a competitor to Jack Walsh, also is in the hunt, as Eddie Moscone is hedging his bets on which bounty hunter will deliver Mardukas.

The climactic scene at McCarron Airport in Vegas is a classroom education in direction and editing. It closes the action on a movie which is funny and engaging from the shotgun blast just over DeNiro's head which opens the film, to the triggering, "Serrano's got the disks! Serrano's got the disks!" which brings everything to conclusion.

A single review cannot do justice to the story and execution of Midnight Run. The script, by George Gallo, should be studied in film schools. Brest's direction, as mentioned, is disciplined and efficient. The performances, from the leads, to Philip Seymour Hoffman's star turn as Jimmy Serrano's mob lawyer, are everything any actor would aspire to. The film should have swept the Academy that year.

But comedies and horror films are never the faves of the elitist Oscar crowd.


Midnight Run is available for rent on most streaming services.

You can thank me for a well-spent $4.99.

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