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‘Midnight Run’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 22, 1988

Robert De Niro is one extended pleasure in "Midnight Run" -- a real actor putting his considerable talent to work in a well-scripted comedy. And he's more than complemented by Charles Grodin, a brilliant comic performer who has been wasted up to now in small roles or lousy movies.

"Midnight" is two movies in one: a formulaic big-action movie and a human comedy. Director Martin ("Beverly Hills Cop") Brest propels the drama forward with planes, trains and automobiles (helicopters, too), but also makes time for De Niro, Grodin, and an excellent supporting cast, to make the frenetic ride well worth the trip.

Jack Walsh (De Niro), a former cop run out of Chicago for not playing ball with the mafia, is now a top-gun bounty hunter for a sleazy bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) on the West Coast. He gets a $100,000 assignment to haul in fugitive accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Grodin), who embezzled $15 million out of his mobster boss, got caught and then jumped bail, stiffing the bondsman.

Trouble is, Pantoliano's not the only one looking for Mardukas. The FBI wants info, the mobster (Dennis Farina) wants revenge. Walsh must not only evade G-men, gangsters and rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton), but once he catches Mardukas he must keep a tight grip on this whiny, kvetchy, overgrown baby.

"These things go down! These things go down!" Mardukas whimpers when Walsh tries to get him on to a plane to Los Angeles. "It's too big. It can't fly."

Not only is Mardukas a pain ("Why don't you put that cigarette out?" he suggests parentally), he probes Walsh about his personal life, offers him money to let him go, and is given to lying.

For his part, De Niro's Walsh is a fretting palooka who's no good with small talk and social graces. "Here come two words for you," he finally spits at Mardukas, "Shut the [bleep] up!"

"Are you proposing?" Walsh asks a goon who's eyeballing him. "Are you proposing? 'Coz if you're not, quit staring at me!"

Though the De Niro-Grodin bicker-and-bond partnership is the main strain, it's not the only running gag. Yaphet Kotto (another overqualified sideliner), as the FBI special agent Mosely who is always one step behind Walsh, uses his endearingly ursine features to perfect, exasperated effect. And Ashton, a "Beverly Hills Cop" carryover, is wonderfully hardboiled. Pantoliano is an hysterical bondsman who threatens to burst a vein at any moment. And Farina is clearly having a ball as the ruthless, sarcastic gangster. Telephoning his two goons, he says: "Is this Moron Number One? Put Moron Number Two on the phone."

Maybe you'll only enjoy Brest's breakneck action: Walsh and Mardukas evading a jillion squad cars in a pickup truck through the desert, nearly drowning in treacherous waters and duking it out on a taxiing small plane, among many things. At any rate, you won't be bored.

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