At 25: “Midnight Run”

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July 20, 2013 by billysparrow


Midnight Run

Released: July 20, 1988

Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, John Ashton, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano

I think we can all agree that if you hate “Midnight Run,” you’re kind of a jerk.

Sure, I suppose you could not like some parts of it, or think it runs a bit too long (and with a running time of over two hours, you’d have a point there), but hate it? Just not possible. There’s just far too much goodness in “Midnight Run” to ignore.

First, there is Robert De Niro, back in the day when you saw Robert De Niro’s name involved with a movie and you thought, “This is going to be good” rather than “Oh no, he’s not trying to do comedy again, is he?” In fact, “Midnight Run” may have ushered in the age of Comedy De Niro, which, to be honest, had a good run before it started to go bad. De Niro is pretty close to perfect here as the ex-cop-turned-bounty-hunter Jack Walsh, who’s looking to get out of the business and open up his own coffee shop with the $100,000 he will get from bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Hoboken’s own Joe Pantoliano) for bringing in Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin). Whereas the modern-day Comedy De Niro tends to take things a little over the top, “Midnight Run” De Niro is spot-on.

As great as De Niro is, Charles Grodin is even better. I should note that I decided somewhere around the first time I saw “Midnight Run” that Charles Grodin was the funniest person ever. I’m not sure when or how I came to this conclusion, but I do distinctly remember sitting in a hotel room with my family somewhere and watching him on “The Tonight Show,” so maybe that was the point at which I was hooked (in the ranking of All-Time Great Talk Show Guests, Grodin is pretty high up there). All I know is that I soon had a paperback copy of “It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here,” then a hardcover copy of “How I Get Through Life,” and I wanted more (and there are more books; I think I read one of them before I started to lose my affection for Grodin).

“Midnight Run” was likely the second movie I saw starring Grodin (and, if I am to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to his work in “The Great Muppet Caper”) and though I can’t say I’ve seen a ton of his other movies, I don’t see how he could be better than he was in “Midnight Run.” Never has an annoying, needling character been so endearing.

And De Niro and Grodin are perhaps at their best in the “litmus configuration” scene, which, if the Internet is to be believed (and if I find out the Internet is lying to me, I don’t know what I’ll do), was largely improvised.

But to make a two-hour movie worth watching all the way through, the secondary actors have to be just as good. Such is the case with “Midnight Run.” Pantoliano is solid as the slimy bail bondsman, Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda are equally as strong as the two dumb mafia goons who can’t bring in the Duke, and Yaphet Kotto is perfect as FBI agent Alonzo Mosley.

But of the secondary characters, two stand out above the rest. First, just as we can all agree that it is simply not possible to hate “Midnight Run,” we can all concur that adding Dennis Farina to any movie automatically makes it better (even “Little Big League,” which was pretty damn great to start with, am I right?). My dad used to love the TV show “Crime Story,” which starred Farina, so that was when I first saw him. And I don’t think I’ve disliked him since, even in the Xfinity commercials he’s in now. But he’s particularly great in “Midnight Run,” as this collection of clips ably shows.

The unsung hero of “Midnight Run,” though, is John Ashton, who plays rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler. I vaguely remember that he was in the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies (which, as we’ve discussed, I haven’t seen), but he can’t be better in those movies than he is here. Dumb without being over-the-top moronic and menacing without really seeming dangerous, Ashton’s Marvin is an ideal rival for Walsh and a key to some of the better scenes in the movie (I can’t find it online, but his “I’m a genius” undoing in the hotel in Vegas is also one of my favorite moments).

That scene brings up another thing I like about “Midnight Run.” While I hesitate to say I’ll like any movie that features some sort of odyssey across America (though, oddly, and tangentially, I will say that I seem to like any movie with a lot of action set in a mall…it is perhaps the Staten Island boy in me), “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Midnight Run” are two of my favorite movies and both feature said journey. I like seeing guys on trains and buses, going to different places and, in the case of “Midnight Run,” states I have not been to, and likely won’t get to anytime soon (i.e., Arizona). I do not know what to make of this information, and I am fairly certain that you (a) don’t either and (b) don’t particularly care, but I’m sitting here at this keyboard in an air-conditioned room and I don’t want to go back outside into the heat, so I figured I’d point it out and thus prolong my time here in this air-conditioned environment.

Perhaps my favorite part of the movie, though, is the ending. There are certain movies that when I see them come up on the on-screen guide as I’m flipping around during commercials, and they are nearing the end, I immediately turn to and forget whatever else I was watching. So it is with “Midnight Run.” The entrapment of Serrano (which, I’m pretty sure, is not particularly legal) is exciting enough, but what I really love is the moment at the very end when the Jack and the Duke part ways, with the Duke giving Jack a pretty respectable parting gift.

As a frequent pedestrian, I think “Looks like I’m walkin'” might be my favorite last line of a movie (though walking around the LAX area seems a little daunting even for me).


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