Picks and Pans Review: Midnight Run

updated 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 01:00AM

For his role as an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, Robert De Niro doesn't add pounds (Raging Bull), shave his head (Taxi Driver), change his accent (The Mission) or sport claws (Angel Heart). But he sure has lightened up. The change becomes him. This is De Niro's most purely pleasurable performance. The story, by George (Wise Guys) Gallo, has De Niro out to earn an easy $100,000 by picking up a bail jumper (Charles Grodin) in New York for a five-hour flight to Los Angeles. Complications ensue. You thought maybe they wouldn't? It turns out Grodin, an accountant, has embezzled $15 million from the mob and given the booty to charity. Mob boss Dennis Farina, FBI agent Yaphet Kotto and rival bounty hunter John Ashton all want his hide. De Niro's easy job turns into a nerve-jangling, five-day, cross country chase. Director Martin (Beverly Hills Cop) Brest has made one of the best pictures of the summer by letting character dictate the action. No stunts are thrown in just for effect. The acting, even in the tiniest roles, is terrific. Grodin is a whiny wonder, especially when he's bitching about De Niro's smoking ("It'll kill you") or companionability ("You have two forms of expression: silence and rage"). One of the film's delights is watching the duo's mutual exasperation grow into grudging affection. De Niro delivers far beyond the call of escapist movie duty, subtly revealing the bruised feelings of this closed-off manhunter. In the film's most moving scene, De Niro—with Grodin in tow—visits the home of his ex-wife (Wendy Phillips), now remarried, and sees the teen daughter he has left behind. Borrowing Phillips' car to make his escape, he tucks in Grodin's coat before shutting the door, as he must have done for his wife out of habit years before. Few buddy pictures supply such telling details. Fewer still can boast such vivid characterizations. Brace yourself for a movie joyride that sends you home reeling from thrills, laughter and the pleasure of honest sentiment. (R)

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