What could go wrong when you have Robert Deniro, Dennis Farina, and Charles Grodin as the main players in a movie about a bounty hunter that has to bring in one of the biggest mob accountants in Chicago? Everything. Just don't judge the movie based on the awful poster.
The backstory is this. Jonathan Mardukas "The Duke" (Charles Grodin) is an accountant for the Chicago Mob and he's embezzled $15,000,000.00 and the Mob wants his head. He's also the main witness against Chicago Mob Boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) and the FBI also want him to testify, but Mardukas wants nothing to do with them, he's trying to flee so he can live his life without looking over his shoulder. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, the bounty hunter in this film and he's enlisted by a bail bondsmen (Joe Pantoliano) to bring Mardukas in after posting bail for the guy. De Niro will only do it for $100,000.00 and after some back and forth, Joey Pants decides it's in his best interest to go with it. It's an easy trip, to Chicago and back to L.A., a "midnight run" as they call it in the film.
It's anything but easy. I could go on, buy I think you get the point. Midnight Run is not a bad movie. It's actually pretty fun to watch. De Niro, fresh off his stint as playing Al Capone in The Untouchables, decided that he wanted to do a comedy, to lighten things up a bit. His pairing with Charles Grodin, the straight man, in this comedy, was unexpected. Grodin, who basically plays the same roles in all the movies, dry sense of humor (or no humor at all), delivers his lines like he has no emotion.
This is what gives the movie it's charm. One is emotional, the other is calculation and practical when it comes to matters involving anything. Grodin's character doesn't care about the Mob or the bail bondsmen, he just wants to go and live his life, anywhere else, other than Chicago. But, Murphy's Law prevails.
Midnight Run is one of those movies that the writers threw everything into the script and managed to make it good. It starts off with a simple plan, Los Angeles to Chicago and back, easy peasy. Then it throws in the unpredictability of the human element (Grodin), who really doesn't want to go, but has no choice, so he's going to be a thorn in De Niro's side every step of the way. That's the first issue.
The second issue is Dennis Farina's character Jimmy Serrano, who has ties to De Niro's character, and wants Mardukas (Grodin) dead. By enlisting a couple of hitmen, the movie adds a second layer of problems to the story, more conflict that De Niro must deal with while keeping Grodin under control at all times. While all this is happening the FBI get involved. Each of the different factions (the Mob, the FBI) seem to run into each other at the same moments, all while chasing De Niro and Grodin. They want the same thing, just different outcomes.
While those are the main elements to the story, keep Grodin alive and out of harms way until they return to Los Angeles, the final layer of conflict is added in. John Ashton (he played Taggert in BHC). Ashton plays Marvin Dorfler, also a bounty hunter, but he's a little more crude. He's basically white trash, he doesn't care about anything but the job. Everyone he catches is guilty, they are all bad people and he doesn't care. He's the flip side of De Niro's character.
While not great, but not a bad movie, Midnight Run has its moments. The scene where De Niro sees his daughter, for the first time, in a long time. Dealing with his ex-wife, who helps him out and, at some point there looks like there may be a door opened for him coming back to her, but he's accepted the situation and she knows it. When Grodin finally stops being mechanical in dealing with De Niro and becomes emotionally invested in this bounty hunter that hates his life and his job.
That main arc, the road trip/buddy comedy, works well. By adding in the other three elements (FBI, Mob, and John Ashton), the movie takes off on its own. The surprise in the movie is John Ashton the clueless, inept bounty hunter who thinks that the world owes him one. The character is great. He does everything he can to disrupt De Niro's life, using his credit cards to cancel car rentals, making side deals with the Mob and ultimately, he screws everything up when we get to the end of the movie. He's jealous of De Niro because De Niro makes the bounty hunting game look easy, whereas Ashton's character looks like he's had to struggle through his career. Ashton's character is mediocre at best when it comes to bounty hunting.
The typical elements of the story are set up near the end of the movie when the FBI and De Niro finally catch up to each other and make a plan to capture the mob boss that's trying to kill Grodin. That's what, unfortunately, kills the movie for me. The whole undercover sting operation that falls apart when Ashton wanders onto the scene where De Niro finally confronts Farina and gets him to confess to a bunch of crimes. It's ridiculous and funny, but lazy writing. Everything before the end is great fun.
Midnight Run (1988)
R | 2h 6min | Action, Comedy, Crime | 20 July 1988 (USA)
An accountant is chased by bounty hunters, the FBI, and the Mafia after jumping bail.
Director: Martin Brest
Writer: George Gallo
Stars: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina