"Into the Night" features cameo appearances by 11 directors, none of whom had the sense to get behind the camera and help the 12th, John Landis. There are other cameos, by singers and actors and a used car salesman and a body builder -- in fact, the movie's all cameos.
In between, there's a story, which focuses on Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum). Ed -- he's got problems. His job (as an aerospace engineer) is a dead end, his marriage is a bust. Worst of all, he's got insomnia -- he hasn't had a good night's sleep in years. But instead of doing the sensible thing and picking up some Sominex or a copy of the Atlantic Monthly, he takes a predawn drive to the airport, where a knockout blond, Diana (Michele Pfeiffer), crashes on his hood screaming for help.
Diana ("as in Princess Diana") has smuggled some of the former shah of Iran's crown jewels for a friend, who was stabbed in the airport just before Ed arrived. So the rest of the movie involves them trying to evade the Savak secret police and a certain Monsieur Melville (Roger Vadim). In doing so, they turn to a number of friends, most of whom end up dead. Some of the violence in "Into the Night" is slapstick, and some of that is funny (the Savak are always bouncing into each other like four of the Three Stooges). But most of it is jarringly graphic and cruel.
The blood bath is supposed to give "Into the Night" an edge of realism, but how much reality can a movie stand when the thugs and victims are the kind of pasty-faced men who can only be film directors? There's no consistency of tone -- even the look of the movie is out of place. Robert Paynter's night photography is lustrous, a romantic tapestry of late-night diners and the lights of L.A.'s perpetual freeway. Beautiful, sure, but it has nothing to do with Ed (for whom the night is the boring time for his sleeplessness) or the story. It's just a milieu out of Central Casting.
The talented Goldblum walks through "Into the Night" like a zombie, his eyes bulging out of his duck's face in a blank stare, as if he'd just returned from his ophthalmologist. You'd think the first salvo from a .45 would rouse him out of his funk, but it doesn't -- he's just blotto. Pfeiffer is an elegant beauty, and in the couple of situations she's called upon to talk her way out of a scrape, she demonstrates a wiggy comic style; for most of "Into the Night," though, she looks as lost as Goldblum.
Which is how anyone would look in a movie so consumed by confusion. "Into the Night" is billed as a comedy-thriller, but the thrills are nothing but a generalized nastiness, the comedy an uneven collection of gags. Few of the jokes have anything to do with the characters (nor, for that matter, do the characters have anything to do with the characters); and few of the thrills have anything to do with the gags. Only once, with the appearance of David Bowie as one of Monsieur Melville's agents, do the comedy and the thrills come together; Bowie has a tawdry, riveting presence, and he's scary and funny in the secretive way of a men's-room weirdo. His five minutes are worth anything the rest of the movie has to offer.
"Into the Night," opening today at area theaters, is rated R and contains graphic violence, nudity, profanity and some sexual themes.