The original Midnight Run probably makes my top 10 action-comedies of the 1980s, alongside the likes of Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop. While those two films succeed because they have great, worthwhile mysteries to unravel underneath their top-notch comedic value, Midnight Run coasts along purely on the chemistry of stars Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, whose mildly hateful comic chemistry is wonderfully developed over an exciting yet harrowing cross-country adventure. It's Planes, Trains, and Automobiles in handcuffs.
Midnight Run has been available on DVD since 2002, and still is, if you go to the right places, so I won't spend much time covering the original film, except to say that De Niro is as good as ever, finding the balance between making his bounty hunter character Jack Walsh intimidating, in that trademark De Niro way, and friendly enough that you can believe the way he slowly warms up to Grodin's irritating, obsessive presence. No, the viewer's interest in this particular set probably has more to do with the three made-for-TV sequels, which are hitting home video for the first time in this all-new package. Predictably, though, this trio of low-budget cash-ins are all markedly inferior.
The major conundrum in taking a Hollywood feature and adapting it to the small screen is that the star is unlikely to follow, and, in a case like De Niro's, just plain not happening. Instead, producers turn to Christopher McDonald, most famous these days for playing the villain in Happy Gilmore, and his infomercial guru in Requiem For a Dream. In the first sequel, Another Midnight Run, McDonald is conclusively terrible, putting on a stomach-churning hint of a New York, uh, syntax ("accent" is too strong a word) and acting like a complete idiot, clearly fearful of drifting too far from the persona De Niro created. Another is also the worst of the three movies, in which Jack tracks a bickering husband-and-wife team (Jeffrey Tambor and Cathy Moriarty), and the way writer Eric Freiser turns the street-smart Jack of the film into a bumbling idiot that falls for things like getting locked in his own trunk is almost insulting. Jack's captives, for instance, have the upper hand on him the entire movie because they steal his wallet and carry a secret cell phone, things Jack would discover if he ever at any time bothered to frisk them. Not a good sign when the most interesting thing about a movie is the fact that it might have -- might have -- been shot on the famous Universal backlot from Back to the Future.
Another is not a good omen for the other two films, but the sequel is a marked improvement right off the bat. Midnight Run Around finds Jack struggling to make ends meet, a situation that forces him to take a risky job several other skip-tracers have failed, all the way out in Oklahoma. Having borrowed and practically stolen to get the gig, Jack becomes increasingly desperate when he arrives and finds that the townsfolk have taken to protecting his would-be captive. The film starts out with a couple of legitimate chuckles, aided in all aspects by a much looser, more comfortable performance by McDonald, and there's a sweetness provided by a local girl (Rebecca Cross) who's carrying the unborn child of Jack's target. As it draws to a close, however, the film forgets it's meant to be funny and turns preachy and predictable. I'm sure the idea is meant to reference Jack's compassion for his captive's problems in the original feature film, but it just feels heavy-handed when a dirty, exhausted, tired Jack looks at the country sunset and smiles. Yeah, right.
All three films were written and directed by different people (odd, given that they were all produced in 1994), which gave me hope for each one apart from the others, but in the end, the revolving door hurts more than helps. Midnight Run For Your Life is a wholly mediocre movie dogged down by a wacky tone that's out of place when compared to the other films in the series. The Jack Walsh of the other three films (especially the original) lives in the real world, yet Run For Your Life trots in dopey henchmen, a bumbling would-be assassin, and a melodramatic, suicidal target (Melora Walters -- the casting of some of these is somewhat impressive in hindsight). Even the score feels wrong, ditching the jazzy "private investigator" tone of the others for a tropical theme inspired by the movie's locale. On top of this, there's a half-hearted attempt to follow through on Jack's failed love life, a thread developed throughout the sequels, but even though his performance gets better, McDonald's version of the character just isn't a romantic lead. Only De Niro's Jack Walsh has enough heart for the audience to care whether or not the guy finds happiness.
Midnight Run: ****
Another Midnight Run: 1/2
Midnight Run Around: **
Midnight Run For Your Life: *1/2
As with most new artwork, especially artwork done for "collection" releases, the cover is predictably lazy, hacking up the stars' faces into squares and placing them in a grid on the cover, this time at a tilted angle, so you know these films are action-packed. The case is a standard 2-disc case with a flap tray, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
It's a shame Universal included the same old DVD of Midnight Run in this collection, because I find most of their catalog upgrades (which usually appear in one of these multi-feature sets) to be surprisingly worthwhile. Instead, we get a frequently murky, fuzzy, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from 2002. In the dark scenes, noise is heavy and fine detail is minimal, and the contrast is heavy, with black crush obliterating backgrounds and dark shadows. On the second disc, things get even more alarming: Another and Around's 1.33:1 presentations feature same level of noise, if not more, plus long-lost video artifacts like dot crawl, extremely visible on the opening credits. Colors are washed out, and on the whole, the transfers are VHS-grade. Thankfully, Run For Your Life provides a little relief. The dot crawl goes away, noise looks more like grain, and fine detail is...good. Why the third TV sequel looks so much better than the other two, I have no idea, but there you go.
All four films are given 2.0 stereo presentations, which is expected of the TV movies but disappointing for the main feature. They're all adequate mixes, getting across the requisite one-liners and gunshots without any trouble, but none of them have the crackle or pop I hope for in a good audio presentation. The theatrical film also offers French and Spanish 2.0, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles, while the TV movies are stuck with English only, across the board.
The only extras are on the Midnight Run disc, those being a short, vintage, promotional featurette called "The Making of Midnight Run" (7:25), and that film's original theatrical trailer.
Skip it. Midnight Run is a great little movie, but these sequels match those of the Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop series in that they're terrible, failing to recapture the lightning in a bottle of the original movies. If you want Midnight Run, I can't recommend you pay the extra $10 to get this set instead of the first film, all by itself.
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