Before Stuber and Pineapple Express, there was Jack and the Duke in Midnight Run
I’ve seen action comedies inspired by “Midnight Run,” like “Pineapple Express” and more recently, “Stuber,” but never have I seen the actual movie. I’m ashamed to admit that, but I’ve finally found the opportunity to dish on it, and it’s viciously deadpan. Matter of fact, it’s one of the most thoroughly entertaining buddy comedies I’ve ever seen.
Released in 1988, “Midnight Run” gave Robert De Niro a brilliant comedic role as Jack Walsh, an LA bounty hunter, who is asked by a bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) to bring a New York accountant (Charles Grodin) back to LA. By the name of Jonathan “the Duke” Mardukas has stolen money from a Chicago mob boss (Dennis Farina), and skipped out on bail.
Since the Duke has aerophobia, Jack is forced to bring him on a train, a bus, a variety of stolen cars. He also has his hands full when his arrestee criticizes him for his smoking habits, his former love life, and the Duke’s phobias. That’s when the real comedy kicks in. And also, they have the FBI (led by Yaphet Kotto), a rival bounty hunter (John Ashton), and the mobster’s goons all wanting their skins.
“Midnight Run” was directed by Martin Brest of “Beverly Hills Cop” fame, and he does a terrific job guiding De Niro and Grodin as mismatched characters without generic cliches, like “quit whining” or “I can’t do it” lines. They’re written with the right material by George Gallo, and they move you in hilarious and honest ways.
Their chemistry is obviously much better than either Jason Bateman and Mellissa McCarthy’s in “Ride Along” or Ice Cube and Kevin Hart’s in the “Ride Along” movies” combined. Especially since, they have situations where the Duke constantly tries and fails to escape from Jack’s clutches, and yet, at the same time, they make a nice pair.
It lags a bit in its third act, but it picks up the pace once the movie knows what direction it wants to head in. And you also get some charming supporting work as Kotto as the FBI agent, Ashton as the rival bounty hunter, Pantoliano as the desperate bail bondsman, and Farina as the mobster. You just have to eat up the zany antics that’s inside each of them.
But best of all, “Midnight Run” is not even close to mean-spirited. It has a sweetness inside, as well as truth in the two main characters and their enemies. It’s ambitious, it’s fun, and it’s entertaining; and it’s all thanks to De Niro, Grodin, Gallo, and Brest.