Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Midnight Run (1988)

Shelf of Shame Comedy

Martin Brest’s road action/comedy marks the first essential film in this 10-part comedy series thanks to a deft script loaded with memorable action and dialogue delivered by pros in their absolute primes. Robert De Niro obviously still had about a decade of brilliant work in him, this on the cusp of “Goodfellas” and “Awakenings.” As no-nonsense, world-weary bounty hunter Jack Walsh, we get arguably one of his best performances to date, and a terrific comedic turn at that in case you didn’t know he had it in him. Matching wits with the great and unspeakably dry Charles Grodin as a mob embezzling prisoner, De Niro leads us on a wonderful adventure from New York to Los Angeles by plane, train and any automobile at his disposal. And Brest sprinkles terrific action sequences, particularly one involving a helicopter, machine gun and river used to their rich potential. But the real strength here is the chemistry of those leads along with George Gallo’s feverishly paced and wonderfully profane script, handled perfectly by Brest (who also directed the first “Beverly Hills Cop”). Despite a a few tracks on the slightly dated but to-be-expected 1980s soundtrack (otherwise scored well by Danny Elfman), this film seems pretty timeless in its tone and simplicity. And it has a heart, too, not just rooted in the relationship De Niro and Grodin develop. We get a heartbreaking but sweet scene when De Niro visits an ex-wife, which seems pretty standard until his teenage daughter turns up during an argument. De Niro totally sells a tender moment when his hard-nosed and cash-strapped bounty hunter turns down money his daughter raised babysitting. Add the brilliant Dennis Farina as an always-angry and quick-witted mob boss (pre-dating his similar turn as Ray Barbone in “Get Shorty”), John Ashton as De Niro’s opportunistic rival bounty hunter, Yaphet Kotto as a miffed FBI agent always a step behind Walsh and Joe Pantoliano’s scummy bail bondsman, and you’ve got a terrific ensemble.

Grade: A

Does it belong on your Shelf of Shame? Yes. This is an all-time great action/comedy and road move featuring one of Robert De Niro’s best performances.

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)