Whatever Robert De Niro does on film always seems menacing: his ticks and quirks are so intense you feel he'll explode any second, and he leaves the audience breathless with anticipation.
That's why his teaming with equally intense comedic actor Charles Grodin makes such perfect sense for the buddy-comedy 'Midnight Run,' directed by Martin Brest.
De Niro and Grodin jive so completely -- De Niro's alternate scenes of silence and rage counterbalanced by Grodin's nerdy self-righteousness - the standard plot devices that pack this movie seem fresh and alive. After all, those crashes, chases and explosions aren't the center of the movie: Its hero and anti-heros and villains with comic proportions are. They hold this film together; they make it both funny and compelling.
We are pulled right into the plot of what amounts to a convoluted cross-country chase. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an ex-cop who got run out of Chicago by a powerful mobster, and who finds himself playing bounty hunter to a seedy unscrupulous Los Angeles bailbondsman, played by Joe Pantoliano.
Pantoliano has an exceptionally difficult and important job for the cynical Walsh: bring back a Mob accountant who stole millions from his boss and then turned the money over to charity. And bring him back in five days or the half-million-dollar bail will be forfeited. Walsh, for a sizable fee, is hooked.
He quickly captures the accountant, Jonathan Mardukas, played by Grodin. But of course, the rest of the movie has to do with their cross-country trip by plane, train, bus, back-of-a-truck and foot to Los Angeles -- just one step ahead of the good and bad guys who also want to bring Mardukas back, either dead or alive, depending on the hunter.
Along the way, Walsh and Mardukas ward off the ever-present Mob associates -- a hilarious duo whose boylike antics bely their deadly aim; an FBI agent, Alonzo Mosley -- played by Yaphet Kotto with a cartoonish rage that fits perfectly his part as the patsy; and another bounty hunter, clever and ruthless, and on a pair of occasions, a savior to the fleeing pair.
And oh, yes, the Mob monster himself, who not only is a little displeased that his money was stolen, but also fears Mardukas will spill the beans about the don's illegal businesses. The gangster is played straight and venomous by Dennis Farina (the television star of the series 'Crime Story,' where he gets to play the good guy every week).
There are enough situations in this plot to fuel several movies, and it's to Brest's credit that he doesn't let things go totally crazy, just crazy enough to give the movie flair and dazzle. It has plenty of each.
Still, what makes 'Midnight Run' so remarkable are its principals, and the supporting cast that keep the audience titillated, laughing and excited for the film's entire 128 minute-running time. Every minute De Niro and Grodin are together seems totally out-of-whack, but so odd-ball that it finally seems natural for them to be together: each of the characters even begins to take on a few of the characteristics of his opposite. Still, if it were just De Niro and Grodin throughout the movie, 'Midnigth Run' would lack the texture the superb supporting cast provides.
'Midnigth Run' is a cross-country rollick of such pure adventure, with an intensity and seriousness so carefully balanced with humor, that it makes every other movie tale of cops and robbers and retribution seem mediocre.
This movie is rated R. Film contains strong language throughout.
THE DEAD POOL -- Harry Callahan is getting older, but he's getting better too. In the latest adventure of the hard-bitten homicide detective played by Clint Eastwood, and directed by Buddy Van Horn, Dirty Harry, media hero, is on the trail of a killer obsessed with celebrities -- including our hero. It's a double-barreled murder mystery with all of the ingredients to entertain Dirty Harry fans. And though there are hints the aging Eastwood may have lost some of that smoldering fire that branded his early cowboy and cop movie roles, his acting here has been tempered with steely grace and no small amount of wit. Also starring Evan Kim and Patricia Clarkson. Rated R.
COMING TO AMERICA
-- Starring Eddie Murphy and directed by John Landis, 'Coming to America' takes a lame idea and some very talented comedic actors and just barely manages to avoid a complete disaster. Murphy tries his hand at romantic comedy leading man, but seems far better in the off-beat, frantic cameos as a barber, rock singer and old white man. Co-star Arsenio Hall, who despite the rotten script, also has some fun with his ancillary roles as a barber and preacher. Alos starring James Earl Jones and John Amos, two veterans who bring a measure of wit to an otherwise lifeless plot. Rated R.
-- Chevy Chase does the best comedic acting of his movie career in this off-beat satire of exquisite rural living. He turns mad with boredom, lack of direction and unrequited serenity. And Chase owes a lot of the credit to the skillful co-star Madolyn Smith. Directed by George Roy Hill. Rated PG. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT -- 'Chinatown' meets Walt Disney in this eccentric and inventive animated murder mystery. Starring Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy and every cartoon character to grace the movie screen since Betty Boop, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is a spirited tribute to the magic of animation and laughter. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Rated PG.
-- Starring Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, here's a movie about people who revere the game of baseball as a religion, the difference between talent and brains, and distinguishing between kindness and love. Writer-director Ron Shelton tells a wonderful story of how a veteran ballplayer and up-and-comer collide in the world of the minor leagues, and how they are loved by a baseball groupie who's also a philospher and poet. Rated R.
-- The plot may sound familiar -- two sets of twins get mixed up at birth and then collide some 35 years later -- but this new movie starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin is anything but routine. Directed by Jim Abrahams, Midler and Tomlin seem to revel in the characterizations they are allowed in this ditzy film, and it's a joy to watch. Forget the plot and gimmicks, it's these two stars who dominate every frame with their boundless energy.
-- Hollywood continues its preoccupation with body-swapping, but this time, the switch goes just one way, a little boy in a grown man's body, and the gimmick works perfectly. Directed by Penny Marshall and starring the versatile comic actor Tom Hanks, 'Big' is about a little boy's wide-eyed innocence and intelligence, about the things children have to teach adults, and about the sad reality of growing up. Also starring Elizabeth Perkins and Robert Loggia. Rated PG.
-- Sylvester Stallone is back as John Rambo in an expensive and lavish production that pits the reluctant hero against a large contingent of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. The politics may seem Medieval, but the action is pure 1988. Stallone and co-star Richard Crenna have no trouble giving the audience what they have come to expect and demand. The special effects and exotic weaponry play key roles in this film, and Stallone does all his own stunts in a truly spectacular show of strength and physical conditioning. Directed by Peter MacDonald. Rated R.
-- Directed by Ron Howard and based on a story by George Lucas, 'Willow' is quite literally a fantastic film -- all about fantasy and the very real world of emotional courage. Its form is owed to Lucas's previous film efforts ('Star Wars'; 'Indiana Jones'), but Howard brings the movie a sweet soul. It is an excessive movie, but glorious, just like a child's fantasy, and something no one should grow too old to appreciate. Starring Warwick Davis as the elf-like hero, Val Kilmer as the warrior who helps the hero on his adventure, Jean Marsh as the evil queen and Patricia Hayes as the good sorceress. Joanne Whalley plays the beautiful princess in the fable. Rated PG.
LADY IN WHITE
-- Written and directed by Frank LaLoggia, this film manages to combine the eerie and ordinary in a fanciful and melancholy ghost tale. The ghost story is told from a 10-year-old's point of view, and not since 'E.T.' has a director so poignantly captured the fears, lonliness and bravery of a child up against the cruelty of an adult world. What makes this ghost-murder mystery so good is that it has as its core both the real and imagined fears of all of us as children. Rated PG-13.