Theoretically, an action comedy should be one of the most fascinating genres of cinema. Viewers simultaneously get thrills from car chases and rib-tickling fun from jokes between the characters. But it rarely happens that an action comedy combines the emotional experiences of an action movie and the ridiculous fun of a comedy film. They usually err more in one direction than the other. Martin Brest’s 1988 masterpiece “Running at Midnight” is a rare example of a comedy thriller that is both exciting and fun. The film could be accurately described as “Lethal Weapons meets Planes, Trains and Cars.”
Like the classic John Hughes comedy “Planes, Trains and Cars”, released a year earlier, “Midnight Run” tells about a pair of motley fellow travelers making a nightmarish journey across the country. The only difference is that one of them is a bounty hunter and the other is a mafia accountant on the run. On their journey across the country, while they constantly quarrel with each other and face endless obstacles, militants on both sides of the law are trying to kill them.
Robert De Niro plays bounty hunter Jack Walsh, and Charles Grodin plays Jonathan “Duke” Mardukas, a meek fugitive he is determined to attract. The Duke embezzled $15 million from the mafia boss who kicked Jack out of Chicago, he is promised $100,000 if he can deliver him alive to Los Angeles. Jack quickly tracks down the Duke and sends him back to Los Angeles, but the Duke claims he is afraid to fly, and due to his subsequent panic attack, they are kicked off the plane. So, with the feds, mobsters and other bounty hunters on their tail, Jack and Duke embark on a treacherous journey across the United States by train and car.
Despite the fact that none of the characters is a policeman, “Midnight Run” shows all the signs of a traditional movie about police buddies. Jack and Duke have polar opposite characters — the former is hot—tempered as nails, and the latter is a timid nerd — who have to overcome their differences when they stay together indefinitely. The pressure of life-threatening danger forces them both to confront their innermost emotions, which brings them closer.
Like Steve Martin’s Neil Page and John Candy’s Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Cars, Jack and Duke can’t stand each other at the start of Midnight Run. But by the end they are best friends. In Planes, Trains, and Cars, Neil realizes that Del’s annoying friendliness is the result of feeling lonely after his wife’s death, and Del realizes that Neil hides a soft heart under his moody, tough personality. In “Midnight Run,” Jack realizes that Duke is a lovable jerk who got involved with a bad crowd, and Duke realizes that Jack is just using anger and hostility to mask a deep well of emotional pain. In the opening act, Jack allows the Duke to live only because he deserves more. But in a showdown with gangster Jimmy Serrano, Jack is ready to risk his life to protect him.
De Niro and Grodin share the fascinating chemistry of the odd couple in the lead roles. In many action comedy films, a comedian plays a wacky role, and a dramatic actor plays the role of a “straight man”: Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in “48 Hours”, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in “Other Guys”, Jonah Hill and Channing. Tatum in 21 Jump Street, Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in Heat- the list goes on. But in the case of “Midnight Run”, a serious actor (De Niro) is a comedic personality, and a comedian (Grodin) is a “straight man”. Grodin’s dry portrayal of the Duke serves as a deadpan backdrop for the irascible Jack.
There’s a lot of fun in “Midnight Run,” from De Niro and Grodin squabbling during an intense helicopter chase to Joe Pantoliano’s role as an exasperated bail bondsman who has committed a double crime, but there’s also a touching emotional line. The Duke persuades Jack to confront the feelings he denies and reunite with his estranged wife and daughter. Jack falls in love with the Duke and opens his mind from blindly labeling him a criminal and begins to see his sympathetic side of things. Without revealing the finale, the final interaction between Jack and Duke — after they both stood up for each other during their incredible adventure together — really touches the heartstrings, and the emotions are truly deserved.
Fans of action movies, fans of comedies and especially fans of comedy action movies “Midnight Run” just need to watch. De Niro and Grodin played two of the funniest (and most touching) roles in their careers, and Brest, as in the case of another jewel of the 80s, “Beverly Hills Cop,” finds the perfect intersection of action and comedy plot with characters. .