I don't know whether to love Midnight Run or to hate it. On the one hand, it's a smart, funny movie with some decent action. On the other hand, it's a precursor to Robert De Niro's turn from highly lauded dramatic actor to parody-of-himself comedic actor in trash like Meet The Parents. Still, it's hard to blame the movie for De Niro's later career choices, as it's pretty darn good in its own right.
De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter scraping by on bounties from small time crooks. He gets turned on to a job catching Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), an accountant who stole 15 million dollars from a crime boss (Dennis Farina). Jack has five days to get Mardukas from New York to L.A. If he can do so, he'll get $100,000. However, things aren't as easy as they seem, as both the FBI and the mob want Mardukas for themselves.
Midnight Run was director Martin Brest's follow-up to his massive hit Beverly Hills Cop. While Cop still stands as one of the best action comedies of the 80's, Midnight Run feels a little more middle of the road. However, in some cases, middle of the road isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film's script is still funny, and Brest's direction is still good, but it's just not as much of a "must see" as its predecessor.
By far the high point of the picture is the interplay between De Niro and Grodin. The great thing about De Niro's performance in this film is that he's actually playing a character. In fact, Jack Shaw is a very out of place character for De Niro to play. He's a down on his luck, can't catch a break everyman. Compare this to the caricatures he plays in Analyze This or Meet The Parents. It's a night and day difference, and that's why De Niro is genuinely funny in this movie. He's sly and sarcastic and has a good time, but he does it within a real character. Charles Grodin plays the same sarcastic character he's played in every movie, although here he's a little more subdued. Still, he's very funny and he has a great rapport with De Niro.
The supporting cast are also a lot of fun to watch. The criminally underused Yaphet Kotto is hilarious as a federal agent. John Ashton is an excellent foil for De Niro as an even sleazier bounty hunter. Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano appears in an early role as a bail bondsman. And Dennis Farina is the mob boss. What more could you want? This is practically a who's who of underrated American character actors.
Overall, the movie is fun. Nothing more, nothing less. You don't get any great life lessons out of it, but you walk away having enjoyed two hours of your life. It's worth a viewing or two.
The HD DVD:
Universal presents Midnight Run in a 1.85:1 VC-1 encoded transfer. The movie was shot in 1988, and as was the style of the day, many of the compositions look very shallow. As such, the HD transfer isn't immediately eye-popping. It also has a lot of grain. And while the color scheme is intentionally muted, I liked the color reproduction. Detail wasn't necessarily as high as I would have liked, but I'll go ahead and credit that to the aforementioned shallow composition. The only real problems are the dark scenes (of which there are very few), where shadows tend to swallow a lot of the image.
Universal offers up a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix that really creaks under the weight of the film. The whole thing just sounds old. The best part is the catchy score, which I feel like getting on CD now.
We get a seven-minute vintage fluff behind the scenes promo, and a full-frame theatrical trailer. Not surprisingly, neither are in HD.
Midnight Run is pretty much a fun throwaway, but the excellent performances by Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin make it worth catching. The audio and video are nothing special, and the extras are practically nonexistent. Still, if you're curious what life could have been like if De Niro had actually bothered to become a comedian instead of a self-parody, this is the movie to watch. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.