"Midnight Madness" a comedy about five teams of college students chasing around Los Angeles on an all-night treasure hunt, appears to be a minor bum investment by the Disney organization.
Although the Disney name has been withheld from the finished product, the movie was produced by Ron Miller, a son-in-law of the late founder and the company's executive vice president in charge of production and creative affairs. Disney's distributing subsidiary, Buena Vista, is releasing the film.
One gathers that "Midnight Madness" is regarded as a somewhat tarnished, illegitimate offspring -- not quite presentable enough to be acknowledged without reservation as a Disney project. The company took a gamble on two young filmmakers, Michael Nankin and David Wechter, 24 and 23 respectively, and fresh out of film school. The results leave considerable room for improvement, but the desire to recruit and encourage fresh blood isn't exactly shameful.
"Midnight Madness" certainly isn't the worst novice theatrical feature ever released. It's not even the sorriest first feature of the week, thanks to the tumbledown embarrassment of Anne Bancroft's "Fatso."
What really compromises "Midnight Madness" is not inexperience or subsophomoric humor, inconvenient as they frequently are, but derivativeness. This vehicle can't quite build up its own head of steam when it seems to be assembled with spare parts from "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "Scavenger Hunt."
Actually, the treasure-hunt gimmick in "Midnight Madness" is superior to the one in "Scavenger Hunt," where the characters merely looted things all around town. In the newer movie, the game is considered its own reward and requires some wit, since the players must solve a series of clues that lead them to various locations.
Keeping tabs on five different groups in transit between a half a dozen locations demands more comic ingenuity and stamina than Nankin and Wechter seem to possess at this point, but the idea remains diverting. When the chase ends at the Bonaventure Hotel, a new architectural landmark on the impoverished L.A. skyline, it's also apparent that the filmmakers are eager to have fun with its distinctive spatial and photogenic attributes. The execution simply falls way short of the intention and potential. The whole concept might have worked better if the hunt turned into a picturesque tour of L.A. While they were at it, why not Disneyland, for example?
David Naughton captains a team of nice, earnest types, obviously the most deserving though never the most amusing. Brad Wilkin heads a bloc of drunken offensive linemen, Maggie Roswell a motley contingent of sorority sisters (including twin fatties), and Eddie Deezen a wimp squad from the debating team. Stephen Furst, a spoiled-rotten slob, cheats shamelessly while accompanied by his flunkies.
Deezen, a hilarious mix of Arnold Stang and Jerry Lewis, was a sensation in "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and a wasted resource (one of many) in "1941." His instantly funny attributes -- a quacking voice and belligerent twerpiness -- are modestly exploited in "Midnight Madness," which places a heavy burden on Furst. Cast as the ingenuous fat pledge in "Animal House," he now steps into a villainous comic lead that cribs from the gluttinous Bluto of John Belushi.
Although Furst tries to differentiate the character from both Belushi and his own performance in "Animal House," the odds are against him.