Midnight Run comes to us from the halcyon buddy-comedy days of the late 80s—so, initially, it seems to want to take us on a very familiar ride. We can predict the leisurely turns and swoops with the jaded prescience of a ten-dollar palmist. Our butts have scored impressions in the seats. At the thought of another go, we might get a little manic. But—look—along with De Niro, then just at the beginning of his stand-up tour of Hollywood, the reliably excellent and otherworldly Charles Grodin is at the controls—and suddenly the track is twisting slightly, and the creaky old coaster is doing something very strange.
None of this means that Martin Brest’s movie reforged the form, or even altered it. De Niro’s Jack, a hard-nosed bounty hunter, must retrieve Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas, an idealistic accountant who discovered that he was working for a mobster and pulled a Robin Hood, embezzling and donating a good deal of dollars. The mobster, naturally one with whom De Niro tangled as a cop in Chicago, wants The Duke dead, and the FBI, in the person of Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto), whose identity Jack pilches, wants him brought in to serve as a witness. Jack wants to get paid and get out; The Duke appears to want to save himself by badgering Jack to death. This last element, of course, is the most important: Jack thaws under the Duke’s eccentricity, finding common ground with Grodin’s crafty slab of a bureaucrat gone rogue. The rest is secondary: this ride can—and does—run on grimaces alone.