“I think under different circumstances … You and I probably still would have ended up hating each other.”
I generally find Charles Grodin to be almost unbearably annoying, and I haven’t seen even one of his Beethoven movies. Some genius decided it would be a hoot to let Grodin sprout his pestering wings at Robert Deniro and let the sparks fly where they may. “Midnight Run” is the funniest buddy movie ever and a generally daffy one at that. It features some of the most genuinely stupid and amusing tough guys in the history of cinema, and a tantalizing slow burn by Deniro, a shortchanged ex-cop, who just wants a peaceful little coffee shop as payment for his decency and integrity.
Grodin plays unknowing mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas. When Mardukas finds out his boss Dennis Farina is a grade A gangster, he decides the honorable thing to do is steal a bunch of his money and give it to charity. Deniro is former Chicago cop Jack Walsh. Walsh lost his job and family when he refused to join Farina’s payroll. Working as a bounty hunter, Deniro is offered $100,000 by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to find the bail jumping Mardukas and bring him back to Los Angeles by midnight Friday.
Somehow Deniro seems to find Mardukas in about thirty seconds flat, but he has a number of serious obstacles in his way. The FBI wants the accountant as a witness, Farina wants the accountant dead, and the nervous Moscone isn’t above sending competing bounty hunter John Ashton into the mix. When Mardukas makes a scene on a cross country airliner, Deniro is forced to take the long way across the country with the talkative, whining Grodin.
Deniro’s Walsh is weary, worn out, cranky, short tempered, and bitter, and it takes Grodin less than the time it takes to fry an egg to get on his nerves. He picks at Deniro’s eating habits, his smoking, his demeanor, and grates on the poor guys bleeding ulcer. If it wasn’t for the hundred grand Deniro would most likely strangle the guy to death and leave him in a dumpster.
My two favorite characters are the goofy, but stupid pair of gangsters Joey and Tony Darvo. While Darvo is desperately trying to explain their failure to kill Grodin to Farina, Joey is likely to be play boxing with him or trying on cowboy hats. Ashton somehow manages to be gruff as a pit bull and even dumber still. He eventually figures out he can make more money by steering Grodin to the mob, but isn’t bright enough to realize he shouldn’t photograph his bounty next to his motel’s labeled towels. FBI agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) humorously spends the entire movie in a slow burn state of frazzled disgust as well after Deniro steals his badge and outwits him at every turn.
Midnight Run is a fast paced dynamo of action and fun. Deniro, in perhaps his most normal role, showcases an amusing mixture of “silence and rage”, somehow manages to hold on to his integrity, and gains a small measure of redemption by movie’s end. I don’t think I have ever seen him look like he was having more fun as an actor. As for Grodin, he would get to say that he was once reasonably amusing in a major feature film.