Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin take a brilliantly bickering road trip in Midnight Run

Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin take a brilliantly bickering road trip in Midnight Run

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In honor of The Heat, we assemble a lineup of buddy-cop movies.

Midnight Run (1988)
The film that introduced the American movie-going public to the virtues of Lyonnaise potatoes, Midnight Run is also the finest comedic work of Robert De Niro’s career—a feat immeasurably aided by his partner-in-squabbling, Charles Grodin. One of the all-time great bickering-buddy comedies, Martin Brest’s 1988 film charts the odyssey of De Niro’s bail bondsman as he endeavors to first nab, and then escort from New York to Los Angeles, Grodin’s accountant, who—having stolen millions from Dennis Farina’s Vegas mobster—is wanted by gangsters, a rival bounty hunter, and FBI agent Yaphet Kotto. After Grodin feigns a fear of flying, the chain-smoking De Niro is forced to travel by train, bus, car, and foot to return his captive to L.A., along the way getting into scuffles with dogs and shootouts with the feds and criminals. Grodin, who believes himself to be a righteous man intent on redistributing Farina’s money to the needy, engages in constant deadpan needling of his profane, increasingly fed up guardian.

Grodin’s calmness and fussiness is a perfect match for De Niro’s cursing-mad exasperation, and the two are expertly served by an episodic story that throws one laughably aggravating roadblock after another in their path. Set to Danny Elfman’s upbeat-bluesy score, theirs is a journey toward the realization that, despite their outward differences, they’re kindred spirits: Grodin’s noble refusal to be Farina’s stooge is ultimately linked with De Niro’s similar, years-earlier decision to quit the Chicago police force instead of agreeing to be on the Mafioso’s payroll. Buoyed by a fantastic cast that also includes Philip Baker Hall as Farina’s right-hand man (a character that would serve as the model for his protagonist in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight), Midnight Run melds road-trip saga and at-each-other’s-throats comedy to enduring comedic effect, even when it engages in abjectly ridiculous cinematic fantasy like De Niro shooting a helicopter’s tail rotor so perfectly, the aircraft literally explodes.

Availability: DVD but no Blu-ray; rental or purchase from the major digital providers; and disc delivery from Netflix.

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