And so we come to the fourth and final piece I wrote for the “Movies That Shoulda Been Summer Blockbusters” episode of 90FM’s The Reel Thing, back in June 1991. At this point, I suspect Midnight Run is considered a minor classic or at least one the quintessential can’t-turn-it-off movies when encountered while scrolling through the cable programming grid. When it was released in 1988 — so just three years before I wrote the following — it was basically a box office dud, further proof that of the conventional wisdom at the time that Robert De Niro, for all his acclaim, couldn’t sell tickets. It opened in fifth place at the box office, which did make it the biggest official debut of that weekend (ahead of Big Top Pee-wee and Caddyshack II), but it was well behind the holdover hits. It had the misfortune of competing against Die Hard in its first wide weekend of wide release, following a word-of-mouth twenty-one-screen rollout one week earlier. Now it seems a little odd to presenting the argument “People should like this more!” about Midnight Run, but I swear it made sense at the time.
As a piece of writing, I will concede this is mediocre at best. I did a much better job when I wrote about Midnight Run as part of one of my exercises in counting backwards.
My final selection is from the summer of 1988 and is most notable for the impressive performances by the two lead actors. Midnight Run stars stars Robert De Niro as a bail bondsman who has to bring an accountant, played by Charles Grodin, across the country to Los Angeles in order to face embezzlement charges. Standing in his way are mobsters, a rival bail bondsman, and the FBI. And there’s also Grodin, who will stop at no deceit or maneuver in order to free himself from De Niro. Watching these two actors create a fierce, complex, frustrated relationship with one another is a true marvel. They match one another stride for stride with solid, funny performances.
The film mixes high excitement action scenes with quieter moments that are equally effective. Simple conversations between the two actors or De Niro’s few moments with a daughter he hasn’t seen in years are just as good as the high-speed chases and helicopter explosions. That’s not something one can usually say about a film that falls into the buddy-action genre.