Movies I Love: Midnight Run (1988)


As a kid growing up with the amazing gift from the Coaxial Gods of Free Cable with all the premium channels including Disney Channel, Showtime, Playboy (don’t tell my parents I saw it a lot when they slept) and of course, HBO (my dad was our building superintendent and got the hook-up from Time Warner) I was hooked on watching movies on TV. I often watch a lot of these movies over and over. Remember HBO didn’t have all of that original programming (still pissed off about “The Sopranos” Finale) then so they relied on a lot re-airing movies mixed in with sports and comedy specials.

One of my favorite movies was the movie, “Midnight Run”. Now when I was younger I really didn’t really fully understand the movie but loved it. It wasn’t complicated at all, pretty simple to a kid but a lot of the subtle dialogue and nuances of the characters I really didn’t understand until I saw the movie as an adult that made me love the movie even more.

Midnight Run is a hybrid buddy road comedy mixed in with thriller and cops & robbers action. Robert DeNiro (Bobby D!) and Charles Grodin are the stars of the film and their chemistry is just flat-out dynamite together in the film. They are like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Katy Perry and a tight bra, Peyton Manning and his WR’s, Tom and Jerry, Lucy and Ethel. This movie also sets a Guinness World Record for “Most times people get knocked out unconsciously by a single punch”

Midnight Run tells the story of a Tough, Take No Shit, Incorruptible Bounty Hunter named Jack Walsh (Robert DeNiro). Jack is living a sad, pathetic life despite his success which you find out why later in the movie. Jack recently finishes off a job and see’s his boss, Bail Bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) who’s a two-bit hustler who continually tries to short change Jack of his pay despite his successful work, even sending in a cheaper and moronic Bounty Hunter named Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) to unexpectedly undermine Jack by nabbing the fugitives himself so Eddie can pay him more cheaper than Jack cause Marvin as the dictionary would call him is a “dumbshit”.

Eddie has a job for Jack to capture a renowned fugitive named Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin with a Hall of Fame Deadpan Comedic performance) who was a Mob Accountant who embezzled 15 million from Chicago Mob Kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) and fled bail before being sentenced to jail for embezzling and if Eddie doesn’t bring him back, he will be in default and would be responsible for $450,000. You know Serrano is evil in the movie when he threatens to stab somebody in a heart with a pencil (is that possible?) and the fact he is a Mob Kingpin who sells drugs. Eddie considers this is an easy job which in bounty hunter terms means a “Midnight Run” (no title pun cue intended). Jack insists this is his last job and it will cost Eddie more. He convinces Eddie to agree to giving him $100,000 for the work but he has to get him by a certain deadline in a few days in Los Angeles. Jack wants to use the money to retire and open a coffee shop and not have to worry about chasing fugitives for cash.

As Jack searches for “The Duke”, he is approached by FBI Agent Alonzo Mosley (Yaphet Kotto, who may or may not be an alien) and is demanded once he finds “The Duke” to turn him over to the FBI in order for them to arrest Serrano and turn him into a Witness, this will affect Jack from getting his money, so he immediately refuses and also pickpocket Mosley to steal his FBI badge to help him catch “The Duke”.

He is also approached by two goons of Jimmy Serrano who are willing to offer him $1,000,000, if he hands “The Duke” over to them. Jack and the goons clearly have history and Jack refuses to work for Serrano (remember Jack is incorruptible).

Jack tracks down “The Duke” in New York City, very easily. Jack tricks “The Duke” by saying he is Alonzo Mosley from the FBI using Mosley’s badge. “The Duke” immediately realizes Jack is full of shit but he has no choice. Jack takes him to the airport to fly him to LA. “The Duke”  (who says he donated most of the stolen money from the mob to charity) offers to pay Jack to let him go because “The Duke” knows if he goes to prison he will be immediately killed by Serrano’s henchmen but Jack refuses (incorruptible). Jack is very happy and they are flying in first class until it turns out “The Duke” has a paralyzing fear of flying (SHIT!) and is able to get him and Jack kicked off the plane!

This is when the movie becomes a hilarious “race against the clock” road comedy with Jack and “The Duke” avoiding the Mob Hitmen, FBI Agents, and Jack’s Bounty Hunting rival Marvin who wants to take in “The Duke” himself after Eddie suckered him to doing it for $25,000. They travel by planes, trains, automobiles, buses, freight trains, chicken coops, etc.

During the trip, “The Duke” constantly tries to escape Jack and drive Jack crazy with random, unflinching probing questions which immediately irritate Jack to the point of losing his sanity and punching “The Duke’s” lights out. You find out when Jack visits his ex-wife and daughter (who clearly misses him) in Chicago in the need of funds for travel, that Jack was a top member of the Chicago Police Department as an undercover Narc who was kicked out of the force when he was framed by a heroin dealer as a corrupt cop because Jack refused to work for him (didn’t I say he was incorruptible?). The heroin dealer… Jimmy Serrano! (Holy Shit!).

You, the viewer and “The Duke” realize Jack is a tragic figure who’s lost any self-respect he once have because he was doing the right things, and life still gave him a sucker punch to the groin that robbed him of his life and he has to be a Bounty Hunter working for a sleaze because he doesn’t know what to do with his life after it got derailed. “The Duke” really drives home to him when he realizes it was Serrano who ruined Jack’s life that the irony is Jack while doing “the right thing” again is “technically” working for Serrano because once Jack turns him in to the courts, Serrano will have “The Duke” killed and he hopes Jack enjoys that Coffee Shop he buys with the $100,000.

Despite being an irritant pain in the ass who keeps trying to escape his custody (That son of a bitch “The Duke” lied about his fear of flying and is in fact an amateur pilot!), Jack immediately begins to grow to be fond of “The Duke” to the point he even concedes they probably will be friends in the next life.

Eventually Marvin steals “The Duke” from Jack and instead of giving him to Eddie, he hands him over to Jimmy Serrano’s goons for more money though the Goons immediately beat him up, not pay him and steal “The Duke” themselves (remember Marvin is a dumbshit) and hand him over to Serrano, who wants to know where his fucking money, “The Duke” stole from him is.

Jack, who is caught by the FBI and realizes “The Duke” is with Serrano. He makes a deal with the FBI to set-up a sting to bust Serrano if they hand “The Duke” back to him to get his money.

The sting goes well until that dumbshit Marvin nearly screws up the sting! But, eventually the sting works, Jack finally busts Serrano and recovers “The Duke” in the nick of time and takes him to LA.

They go to LAX, it looks like Jack will make his deadline despite cutting it really close. Jack calls Eddie who is thrilled but Jack lowers a shocking revelation to Eddie… HE’S GOING TO FREE “THE DUKE” AND NOT TURN HIM IN! “The Duke” is shocked by this. Apparently, Jack has regained that self respect in his life after finally nailing Serrano and also during the course of the adventure, he really grew a heart for “The Duke” and knows if “The Duke” goes to prison, he will be dead despite Serrano being busted.

This is one of the better endings I ever saw, very intimate and a slight change of pace from the action of the movie to something more character based and poignant. Jack and “The Duke” briefly look back to their adventure and part their separate ways. “The Duke” lowers one more surprise to Jack, apparently “The Duke” didn’t give all the money he stole from Serrano to charity and in fact kept a lot of it. He actually had on him, $300,000 of cash (the whole time despite times in the trip they needed cash..SON OF A BITCH!). “The Duke” who appreciates what Jack did for him by letting him go, hands him $300,000 as a personal gift for “doing the right thing” and he vanishes presumably to a plane back to NYC to be with his wife and probably go to Europe. Jack moves on with his new found windfall and a life back on track.

The script doesn’t miss a beat at all doing a perfect balance of action movie, buddy comedy and road money with some thriller aspects. It’s never boring The Director, Martin Brest (who also directed “Beverly Hills Cop” another of my favorite all time movies) gets amazing performances out of the whole cast and beautiful scenic shots of the areas Jack and “The Duke” go. Danny Elfman’s score is pretty memorable with this kinda Country Rock Orchestral music in the background.

The thing that makes the movie though is the Comedic chemistry of DeNiro who plays a great straight guy to Grodin’s understated, unflinching deadpan comedic performance and how well they played off each other over the course of the film. It’s so good to the point, it is hypnotic.

I strongly recommend this movie to everyone, seriously after watching the movie you will laugh and be smiling by the film’s end. Plus Bobby D. pre-Little Fockers is in it! It’s on Netflix’s “Instant Stream” for viewing. Give it a shot!

-V. for Vinnie


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