Monday, 5 October 2015

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening

(SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II’s on YouTube, and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

In a way, that’s good, as there can be no real defence that the fault lies elsewhere. What was Russell Mulcahy thinking? What was anyone thinking? The screenplay is credited to Peter Bellwood (co-writer of the original) from a story by Brian Clemens (yes, The Avengers Brian Clemens) and William N Panzer (a veritable career of subsequent Highlanding), but the ins and outs of who decided what when seem to be dependent on who you asked at what point. It’s been said the revelation that the Immortals are aliens was a means to get Sean Connery (one time dead Ramirez) back on board, whom Lambert had enjoyed working with on the original. Alternatively, Ramirez wasn’t originally in the film, and Lambert threatened to back out if Sean wasn’t included.

Then there’s the interference of the completion bond company, who took over the film during editing, and wrangling with producers who demanded the addition of elements they thought would make money. It’s been suggested they introduced the planet Zeist element, although this was in the original script. Some of this sounds a lot like passing the buck. Certainly, the major change to the Director’s Cut is excision of references to Zeist, in an attempt to mash together some continuity with the subsequent series. It’s a gesture that entirely flounders. I have to admit, apart from the reference to being sent to the future, it passed me by that they were now intended to come from Earth’s past. Connor and Ramirez being sent through the mists of time makes no more sense than being sent from another planet.

The latter whiffs strongly of looking to Superman for inspiration, both of Highlander as Supes and his various opponents (the Kurgan, Katana) as Zod and his cronies, and of the superpowers imbued on the otherwise mortal beings once in the Earth’s environment. The conception of the sequel goes so wrong on so many levels, but primarily the problem is “How do you continue a complete story?” 

Somehow Connor has to be made immortal again, which requires negating everything he achieved (including happiness, so Brenda is killed off in a perfunctory flashback with a different actress). By revealing the origins of the Immortals the makers also fall into the trap of diminishing the most fascinating element of a good movie mythology; what you don’t know and are able to speculate on is always more evocative (see also Alien/Prometheus, the Star Wars prequels).

Additionally, one of the most attractive elements of the original was the traveller through time element, the protagonist alone and unchanging through the ages. Now the flashbacks are mostly about Zeist or the intervening years until 2024. Not nearly so engrossing. There’s a general overtone of bashing together random elements regardless of whether they worked, simply because they suited someone’s whims. 

So Mulcahy wanted to make his Blade Runner (even though that ship had sailed almost a decade ago), but ended up falling foul of a country (Argentina) where it was hoped the extravagant scope could be achieved on the cheap. Suddenly MacLeod’s an inventor who can rig up a device to save us from the absented Ozone layer because it was considered a good idea to shoehorn in a commentary on one of the big issues of the day (had no one seen Superman IV?)

Louise Marcus: Okay now, let me get this straight. You’re mortal there, but you’re immortal here, until you kill all the guys from there who come here and then you become mortal here. Unless you go there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here, again.
Connor MacLeod: Something like that.

Inevitably, the picture (even in original release form) spends a lot of time setting up this new world and retconned history, but then has nothing worthwhile to do with it. There’s no attempt to explain how adult Connor ended up with a Scottish tribe (evidently he’s no longer born into it), but that’s peanuts in the scheme of the nonsense on display. The Zeist/past is a means to bring Ramirez back for an extended cameo ($3.5m to Sean and a sexual harassment suit to boot) and introduce a villain/villains (Michael Ironside’s General Katana), but the plot amounts to little more than Connor proving the Ozone layer shield he set up is no longer needed. 

Sure, there’s some (so subtle) commentary on corporate greed (John C McGinley wants to carry on charging for the shield’s use; couldn’t Connor just design it with an off switch?), but nothing happens for good reason, such that at points it has to resort to commenting on its own stupidity as a kind of double bluff (“He’s an old man now. He’ll be dead in a couple of years” one of Katana’s idiot henchman advises, entirely logically).

Doctor Who’s current showrunner Steven Moffat really ought to be one of the few who adores Highlander II; it makes even less sense than his constant retcons and spuriously reasoned catalogues of plot elements. His predecessor introduced the very Highlander standing up regeneration (just with slightly less orgasmic overtones, surprising really given how keen on innuendo the show has become), of course.

The Quickening takes in a ragbag of elements including Mulcahy’s Wild Boys video, Back to the Future Part II (coincidence, apparently, and there’s the little thing that these hoverboards are really shitty), Dune, The Godfather Part III and the aforementioned Blade Runner. There’s little means to do this well, so the director opts for a proliferation of low angled close-ups to hide the shoestring (for example in a Zeit/past battle scenes). 

Generally the action is threadbare, entirely without urgency or tension (Mulcahy still throws in some wonderfully individual shots throughout, but they're in the service of nothing), from the dual Highlandergasms that restore Connor’s youth, to Katana’s joyride on a subway train (complete with tonally gratuitous gore), to Connor and Ramirez being shot to bits in a car just because they’re, like Immortal. The big fight with Katana is entirely forgettable.

By which point Sean has exited, mostly because they couldn’t afford him any more; that’s really how it feels (“My time here is over” and I need to kill myself in a big fan). We’ve already traversed from incoherent to incoherent and indulgent (anything with Connery in Scotland, although it just about gets a pass for being Connery, really isn’t very good; the staggeringly unfunny appearance mid-Hamlet – shouldn’t it have been the Scottish play? – and the visit to the tailor).

For the first half hour the picture’s sort of tolerable, before the sheer stupidity of what Mulcahy and co have planned has fully unfolded. Lambert’s really enjoying himself doing his Vito Corleone old man act, and there’s much nostalgia for the original (two Queen songs play, and that’s about as close this gets to any kind of mood or atmosphere).

Anything involving Ironside is particularly wretched. He basically admits he took the piss, which isn’t something to be proud of, and his performance isn’t over-the-top in a good way; it’s wholly tiresome, and so fits with the crappy dialogue he and everyone else gets (“After all these years, you’re still a jerk” notes Connor).

I’m not really sure what happened to Virginia Madsen’s movie career (Sideways was a decade ago; I see she’s in David O Russell’s upcoming Joy); I guess it was as simple as a string of bad choices (like this). She plays a good terrorist (you wouldn’t get one of those these days, or they’d call themselves something else; she refutes the accusation), one with humanity’s best interests at heart, who is shagged by Connor just as soon as he gets all randy from beheading a couple of compatriots. She goes to Zeist or stays on Earth with Connor, depending on the version you’ve seen, but in both she’s effectively banished from existence by Highlander III, with Connor’s new totty turning out to be Deborah Unger.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising the Highlander reboot is having so much trouble getting off the ground when the franchise’s history has been plagued by mediocrity (at best). Like The Crow, this seems to be a series where producers/studios are convinced there’s some money in but have little real enthusiasm for milking it. You’re unlikely to get anyone claiming any of the sequels are much cop, only discussing degrees of how bad they are and how much worse a particular instalment is than another. Which is a dubious honour. And yet the premise of the immortal, condemned to see others pass away as he remains every youthful, is a potent and understandably much plundered one. To turn that into a series you probably need more than just the bare bones of the original’s mythology, but you need to avoid the almost wilful incompetence of Highlander II.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Okay, let's do the math.

The Martian

(SPOILERS) Reactions to The Martian appear to be generally laudatory, along the lines that (Sir) Ridley Scott has gone and done it again, even if that again is a decade and a half since his last all-round-acclaimed picture. There’s no doubting The Martian is an accomplished picture, expertly made and equipped with a solid script from Drew Goddard (adapted from Andy Weir’s novel). But it’s also overlong and frequently cheesy in choice of dialogue, musical cues and presentation of science to the great unwashed. Crucially, despite an invested performance from Matt Damon, the movie never really gets under the skin of its protagonist marooned on an alien planet. The picture always has somewhere else to go or something else that needs to happen, in fulfilment of its mission to remain relentlessly upbeat.

Some have already suggested this picture succeeds where wannabes Gravity or Interstellar fail, but I’m not really sure it does. Or rather, I’m not sure maligning those pictures, also replete with faults just different ones, is in the movie’s favour. The Martian sets up a very limited, stable agenda and proceeds to work through it scrupulously; as such, there’s something very mechanical about its processes. This is a movie so pedestrian in scope, it even has the gall to appropriate Bowie’s Starman without a trace of irony.

Apparently, much of the style of humour and pop culture referencing of The Martian is present in the novel. Perhaps that’s what attracted Goddard, a veteran of Buffy and Angel, to adapt it. The characterisation of Damon’s doggedly upbeat Martian landscape gardener Mark Watney positively reeks of the glib repartee abundant in Joss Whedon’s oeuvre. This sort of snappy patter wouldn’t be out of place in Avengers, where you can spot an oh-so clever Whedon line a mile off (because most of them are interchangeable between characters), and often thinks it’s funny than it actually is. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been a big fan of Whedon’s work in the past, but his approach very much is not an all-purpose fits all, not if you seeking to eke out any sense of depth. There’s a thin line between natural brio and a smug smartass, and Watney frequently topples over the wrong side. Whether it’s his overdone griping about the ‘70s disco collection of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), complete with the unendearing smearing of hits across the soundtrack (and why would the only watchable media be Happy Days; surely they’d at least have The Wire – come to think of it, where’s all Watney’s music and movies?), or his self-satisfied claim to be a pirate, or the aggravatingly cocky “In your face, Neil Armstrong!” this kind of dialogue only emphasises the distinction between what the picture needs and what it has; any real sense of resonance resulting from Watney’s plight.

Because it’s a good basic premise, Castaway on Mars (even if it’s been done several times before; Marooned, Robinson Crusoe on Mars). And, when it comes to the set pieces, Scott more than comes up with the goods. In particular, the opening lift off amid a Martian storm offers edge-of-the-seat thrills of the first order. But Scott’s staunchly methodical approach, which has been his only approach post-Gladiator career resurgence, cannot furnish the material with anything more than what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

The screenplay is geared to piling event after event, be it on Mars, the Hermes, or back at Mission Control, so there’s no time for the implications to sink in, less still any kind of existential musing (well, one character asks another if he believes in God at one point, but it’s only in service of trotting out the most inane of clichés that they are going to need all the help they can get).

Whilst we are shown Watney growing crops, talking to camera, communicating with NASA, even experiencing a down-in-the-dumps moment after (in another gripping scene) he loses his careful nurtured tatties, there’s a sense this is only ever surface detail. He has no real interior life, nor is there an appreciation of long empty stretches of time passing in isolation, partly because Scott has no interest in such things but also because the screenplay is compelled to get us onto the next incident of problem solving.

I get that Watney is an irrepressibly positive guy, the guy who “never stopped fighting to make it home” and so isn’t going to dwell on the negative if he can help it, but it’s a trait that becomes irksome rather than endearing after a certain point and works against really rooting for him (of course Damon, in contrast to Watney, has discovered over the least few weeks that sometimes its better to nurse a well-considered comment rather than leap right in there and have it picked apart by all-comers). Additionally, while it ensures the viewer remains invested in the plot, switching perspectives to Earth or the Hermes means we’re induced to forget about Watney for significant sections. Ultimately, your appreciation of The Martian will be significantly impacted by your tolerance levels for Matt being really chummy.

A gradual air of predictability also creeps in to the proceedings, something you want to avoid in a picture extending well over the two-hour mark, such that you’re willing it to wrap things up long before Scott (notorious for keeping things long/epic/over-indulged) is ready. It’s telling he’s got a 20-minute longer cut in the offing.

One thing the school of Whedon tends to do well is define its characters economically. As such, there’s never any danger that everyone here (and there are quite a few in the mix) will get lost in the throng. Some of them veer too far into cliché territory (notably Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson), and with others you can hear Weir’s/Goddard’s geek talking through them (The Lord of the Rings, Iron Man) or furnished with standard smart mouth dialogue (when mostly earnest Chiwetel Ejiofor starts cracking wise) but mostly they are cast are able to make themselves clearly known in a few short strokes. In particular, Chastain, Jeff Daniels and Michael Peña (surely officially now the most loved supporting player in movies today) stand out.

Several newcomers make an impression too, for reasons good and bad. Mackenzie Davis is surely a next big young thing as the young NASA operative who establishes the fact of Watley’s survival. However, Donald Glover is supposed to be the adorably eccentric nerd (who works out how Watley can be rescued) but has a big sign hanging around his neck saying “self-consciously aspergic whacky guy”.

His character (Rich Purnell) also delivers one of series of “explain it in English” lectures on the science of what is planned at any given point that become increasingly patronising. He posits Daniels and Kristen Wiig as planets and a plots a course between them. Later we get bloody Lewis explaining a manoeuvre to her crew with salt and pepper pots. I never had an enormous amount of patience with MacGyver (although I didn’t mind Burn Notice doing it so much), and The Martian’s persistence in lacing its plot with problems its characters must “science the shit out of” becomes a crutch that could have been avoided, since initially, when its confined to Watney, it’s diverting and engrossing.

Many of these scenes are very good, from his attempts to refine water and grow a crop, to retrieving the Mars Pathfinder and then setting up effective communication with Mission Control. Even the red herring of trying to make it to the planned site of the future Ares 4 mission intrigues. Athough, even if feasible, sitting next to decaying Plutonium in order to keep warm surely can’t be a rational or sensible decision if one wants any kind of lifespan (I was similarly askance that he would settle for a sheet of polythene protecting his delicate environment in the crippled Mars base).

On Earth too, the political manoeuvring of Daniel’s Teddy Sanders, whom Goddard pulls back from making an outright villain but ensures is cynically calculated when it comes to key decisions, avoids everyone being sickeningly well-meaning (even if, ultimately, Sanders is). I also like the Chinese coming to the rescue. Less commendably, every other scene seems to consist of someone telling someone else “You have to do it faster than that!” Then there’s the “all for one” decision of the Ares 3 crew, which can’t avoid being corny through and through, but less so than the cheese-laden global vigil for their rendezvous with Watney.

While much has been proclaimed about the scientific accuracy of the picture, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief during the climax when Watney uses the forced depressurisation of his spacesuit to let out just enough of a little tommy squeaker to direct him into the arms of his nurturing commander. Until that point, the rescue mission finale is first rate (the aforementioned gathered crowds watching on TV aside; as if anyone these days could be bothered to get out of bed – it’s almost as if the space race never died, and people still get about space travel excited just like they did in the ‘60s…)

Where does The Martian stand in the Mars-related pantheon? Obviously, it can wear its scientific accuracy as a badge of pride, which it has done ad nauseam to anyone who will pay attention, although Corey Goode might have a thing or two to say about the planet being otherwise uninhabited during Matt’s tenure there. To be honest, while I haven’t revisited them since, I found both the much-maligned Mission to Mars and Red Planet quite watchable. But most of them, even Total Recall, Capricorn One and Mars Attacks! fail to achieve greatness (John Carter falls into the okay but somewhat lacking camp). Some special cases (Ghosts of Mars) downright stink. This one, it doesn't shame them, but it's in no way leading the pack. 

Scott’s visual prowess is never less than evident here, from the stylishly designed Mars climate suits (up there with those from Prometheus) to the Kubrick-variant artificial gravity spacecraft. I’m unconvinced the natural 3D adds much to the experience though, a couple of shots aside. And it’s quite clear the old boy is going through the motions with the soundtrack, which is disappointing. Harry Gregson-Williams score is an improvement on Prometheus, but this is a director who once had Vangelis and Tangerine Dream making his movies’ music as influential as the images he conjured. As for the pop-tastic tunes, one montage set to Abba’s Waterloo (following the Starman montage) is one redundant montage too many.

If nothing else, The Martian is evidence that these days Scott is only as good as his next screenplay. Which makes this a decent, agreeable movie, but conversely not nearly as interesting and peculiar as the flawed The Counselor. Keep at it, Sir Ridders, you might yet get someone to write you a bona fide classic during your ninth decade.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

You guys are the dumbest bounty hunters I've ever seen!

Midnight Run

(SPOILERS) Midnight Run has a lot to answer for. It gave Robert De Niro the impression he was great at comedy. He is great in Midnight Run. It’s easily his funniest performance. But that performance is a consequence of the alchemy of co-stars, script and director and, most fundamentally, that De Niro isn’t playing for laughs. Sure, he’s been funny in stuff since, mostly he’s been mugging off his taciturn tough nut persona, a one-trick pony show that’s usually been milked in undemanding and inconsequential material. Midnight Run is something else entirely; a buddy movie with genuine heart, a road trip that never feels like its simply pushing formula buttons, an action comedy with genuine stakes and drama. It’s a very, very funny movie, with probably the highest quota of memorable lines per scene that side of Tarantino. We should all be grateful a sequel hasn’t had the chance to besmirch its memory.

Well, one kind of has. Make that three. Six years later a trio of TV movies, with the enticing titles Another Midnight Run, Midnight Runaround (really?) and Midnight Run For Your Life (WTF? Still, I guess this kind of thing inspired the Die Hard series) with Chrisopher McDonald as Jack Walsh (the De Niro character) and Ed O’Ross as Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton’s). Writer George Gallo has opined that, even though a bona fide sequel has been mooted as of 2010, he’s not really sure what would be done with it, particularly since for him it felt like the original was a contained story; it was over, and doing something else would be like “taking a shit on something”. Which is succinct. And fair.

Gallo recalls that the picture came out the same week as Die Hard (in wide release, that’s indeed the case), although even while the Willis actioner was a franchise starter it didn’t take the top spot (it never rose above 2, Run never above 5 in the charts). Die Hard made more than twice Run’s gross, and as Gallo tells it Universal thought they had a big hit on their hands (despite, or because of, being rebuffed when they wanted Cher to play the Charles Grodin role). If I had to pick the better of the two pictures, I’d be hard-pressed, but there’s no doubt Midnight Run has aged more gracefully, free of the burden of being overly bound by ‘80s trappings, paraphernalia and style.

So the picture perhaps underperformed, albeit the whys are elusive (it was a critical darling). Perhaps audiences were uncertain about De Niro playing for laughs (We’re No Angels a year later would apparently confirm it as territory he should avoid), or perhaps it’s simply as unquantifiable as the question is “How is it that Midnight Run is so good?” On their own, none of the key players (except De Niro, but obviously in different genres) has reached these dizzying heights before or since. One can only come back to that elusive thing called alchemy.

Gallo gives the key credit to Martin Brest, a director pegged as difficult (exacting at best) who has vanished from the scene in high dudgeon in the wake of the lambasting received by Gigli. For a career with seven movies in nearly 40 years, he’s a hardly a Kubrick in terms of painstaking quality. He was kicked off War Games, then hit it big with Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. Post Run he made Scent of a Woman (Pacino Oscar bait) and Meet Joe Black (oft-slated, but I kind of like it) before Gigli. Run’s very definitely the highpoint in his career, but he seems to have something of the erratic quality of a Doug Liman. No master stylist, nor thematically a particular purist, but occasionally able to knock it out of the park with the right ingredients (he most definitely is not a Brett Ratner, rumoured for the remake and a death knell to quality).

Writer Gallo’s career is similarly unremarkable aside from Run (he furnished Bad Boys with its story, but you’d be hard-pressed to label any of his other work hits or classics). Then, it is known that Run featured a great deal of improvisation, so how much of the memorable dialogue is Gallo’s? Astin tells how he and De Niro had a “fuck meter”, gauging the judicious, but not too much, use of the word (yet it’s the sheer quantity that gains Run an 18 certificate; but they’re absolutely right, it’s the way they’re used as punctuation, rather than their proliferation).

The story beats are certainly all Gallo’s (including suggesting Marvin survived at the end after seeing how likeable-despite-himself Astin made him), and that’s a deceptively easy-looking construction. After all, isn’t the road trip a staple of A to B narratives? The (hero’s) journey that writes itself, here with a bickering couple who grow to like each other. It could be a more dramatic version of the previous year’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles (maybe the thought of repetition put audiences off), peppered with crosses, double-crosses, twists and turns. Without a doubt, if the foundation weren’t so solid then nothing liberally sprinkled on top, from the perfectly poised cast to the delicious dialogue, would be quite as successful.

The core of the picture is the relationship between Walsh and the Duke, of course. Reportedly most of those who went to read with De Niro were wholly deferential to the screen legend. Grodin completely wasn’t and, partial to improvising, treated him with the kind of disdain the Duke would show a bounty hunter. The result was that De Niro and Brest held out for the actor over studio demands for a bigger name. Certainly, as Grodin readily admits, this is the best work he’s done on film (he also says making it was a great experience) and Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone) shrewdly observes that Grodin’s the glue that set the tone of the movie; “everybody is deadly serious and out if it all this comedy comes”.

Without Grodin, De Niro doesn’t have a foil for his exasperation, someone wheedling out his inner thoughts and feelings. Indeed, elsewhere Walsh has opponents who allow him clear one-upmanship, be it their exasperation with him (Yaophet Kotto’s Alonzo Mosely) or their sheer stupidity (Marvin). And when it comes to the confrontation with Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), it’s deadly serious, as it should be, but it doesn’t call on a huge expression of motivation (on the other hand, Farina is absolutely hilarious when interacting with lawyer lackey Sidney, Philip Baker Hall; “Don’t say a word, Sidney. Don’t say a fucking word. Or I’ll get up and bury this telephone in your head”).

Gallo notes Run is quite a sentimental movie at times, but this is counterbalanced with the grit (or swearing), and that’s the key to the Duke-Walsh relationship. Feuding from the start (“You can start by shutting up. I’ve known you for two minutes and already I don’t like you”), the irony that they’re both in the situations they’re in due to Serrano is intrinsic. Walsh is “tired of this miserable fucking business”, but he is honour-bound to do what he says even when others let him down. 

It’s one of De Niro’s best-modulated performances (cards on the table, it’s my favourite of his irrespective of genre, just for sheer pleasure of seeing him at play). One only has to look at the conversation on the train (everyone of their conversations is gold; Run is much like The Big Lebowski for each scene being a gem), as it steers from a discussion on what Jack will do with the reward money (“If I were your accountant… “) to a lecture on cholesterol steering back to the Duke’s own living a denial (“Oh, so you’re aware of your behaviour and yet you continue to do things that aren’t good for you”).

The Duke: Jack, you’re a grown man. You have control over your own words.
Walsh: You’re damn right I am, so here are two words for you: shut the fuck up.

It sets the tone for the conversations and bickering that continues throughout (“Why aren’t you popular with the Chicago police department?” and the marvellous “You lied to me first” attempts to get in the last word; “I cant even argue with you I don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about”). De Niro understands the humour in Walsh lies in his inability to outsmart Grodin verbally; it’s the blue collar versus the white, making the “two words for you” possibly the stand out line in a picture replete with great lines (“Well, I tell you what, if you don’t cooperate your going to suffer from fistophobia”). When Jack comments, “What a pain in the ass this guy is” its sounds almost an off mike gesture at Grodin’s virtuoso improve skills.

Walsh: You fuck with me?
The Duke: And you’ll hit me on the head and drop me in a thing.

Grodin can do superior (his look at the checkout woman when Walsh is attempting to buy a ticket is a sublime, and then there’s his commandeering of the situation in Red’s bar to get some money) and cutting (“Don’t pretend you care” when Jack tells him about the witness protection programme) and wry (“I’m a white collar criminal” he informs Jack’s ex’s son after the lad comments “You don’t look much like a criminal”; even the kids in this movie get good lines).

That scene is the most overtly sentimental in the picture, but it absolutely works, and is absolutely justified. If the whole business with Jack’s stopped watch (“Sometimes you just have to let yourself go. Just get yourself a new watch”) is bit laboured, his interaction with his daughter Denise (Danielle DuClos) is touchingly sincere. Likewise, the final scene where Jack lets the Duke go is genuine but not mawkish, framed as it is by Jack’s own sense of values (“Now, say goodbye you lying little piece of shit, because I’m letting him go”).

Joey: Oh, you’re dead. Do you know who you’re fucking with?
Dorfler: No, why don’t you tell me about it? And make sure you speak into the microphone.

The Coens comparison is particularly apt, because Run, like Lebowski, ensures every single character is memorable. As such you get every actor citing it as one of the best things they’ve done. Certainly, John Astin is phenomenal as slobbish dullard Marvin Dorfler, a guy with enough smarts to continually pick up Jack’s trail where others fail but so dumb he falls for Jack’s “Marvin, look out!” every time (the punches in this movie are wonderful, jaw to the floor moments on each occasion) and takes a photo with the name of the hotel he’s holed up in prominently displayed on some towels behind The Duke. Dorfler is so monumentally crass, vulgar and coarse to everyone he meets it’s a joy to behold (“Hey, nothing personal Jack, but fuck off” is almost his first line).

Dorfler: (looking around the room) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Got the whole fucking force after me, huh?

His interaction with Mosely (“Son of a bitch stole my cigarettes”; “Why don’t you quit? It would be cheaper for both of us”) is a churlish treat, as is his dumb bombast towards mob heavies (“Who the fuck are you guys?”) and disinterest in the Duke’s manipulations (“Yeah? Well, why don’t you relax and sleep through it?” is his response to the Duke’s fear of flying, punching his lights out). In fact, Marvin’s smoking is a continual source of mirth (“Take a wild guess” he responds to Brest, cameoing at a check-in desk, when Marvin is asked if he will be smoking or non smoking). Gallo was absolutely right that Marvin should be kept alive, and Astin’s improvisations (“Yeah, watch your cigarettes with this guy, Jack”) are delicious. There’s a bit of El Bruto to De Niro’s El Buono in their relationship, and if anything had justified a sequel it would have been seeing these two squaring off again (how to fit in the Duke, though).

Train Porter: Mosely? Are all you guys named Mosely?

Kotto is also enormous fun, his increasing indignance at everything falling apart around him mirrors Serrano’s in terms of these bounty hunters messing up their best laid plans. His enraged “I’m Mosely!” in response to a porter informing him of Walsh’s real name is perhaps the highpoint. Even Serrano’s goons (Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda) are entirely memorable (“Tony? He ain’t mad at me is he?” asks Miranda’s Joey after a call to Serrano). Serrano needs to be a potent force for the balance of the picture to work, so his threat to the Duke that he will die that night and then he will find his wife and kill her too is powerful and icily vivid (fortunately, Marvin shows up to undercut this; Serano asks “Who the fuck are you?” to which Dorfler replies “What are you, writing a book? Who the fuck are you?”)

Moscone: Everybody’s telling me to go fuck myself!

Then there’s Joey Pants, who had been around as an actor for about 15 years at this point but only really made an impact for the first time here. His might be the part you appreciate more and more on revisits, because he’s such a gloriously manipulative little weasel (yet unable to see that Jack Kehoe’s Jerry is leaking information under his nose and that the Feds are sitting outside), and willing to say or do anything to get what he wants (he is, as Walsh memorably comments, a “slime ball in a sea of puss!”) Pants is probably now best known as Cypher in The Matrix, but this might be his signature movie role. His increasingly hysterical responses to Walsh are hilarious (“Fuck the bus! I want to know what happened to the goddam plane!”), and gives De Niro some of his best lines (“I’m in the lobby of Howard Johnson’s and I’m weaning a pink carnation”; “Eddie, Eddie, don’t start with me now or I swear, I’ll shoot him and drop him in a fucking swamp”).

Walsh: I’ve come too far, and I’m too close.

Brest might not be a master, but he knows how to put action sequence together (and take a look at Brad Pitt getting hit by a bus in Meet Joe Black). Here, he’s wonderfully complemented by an early Danny Elfman score that’s infused with delirious, upbeat brio yet delineated distinctly according to each character.

The highlight set piece is probably the trail of carnage in the wake of the FBI catching up with Walsh and the Duke in Arizona (although other great vignettes include the helicopter chase leading to Walsh and the Duke ending up in a river, and the Duke attempting to escape on a biplane). Cop car after cop car manages to pile up or roll over as Walsh decides to go cross-country, and Brest includes a marvellous helicopter shot at the end showing off the trail of wreckage. 

In contrast, the set piece at the airport is finely tuned to low-key tension, building as the disparate elements climax in Serrano’s arrest. Elfman’s score is as much a part of leaving audiences on a high as the bittersweet ending (Jack gets his money, the Duke gets to escape, but there’s a wistful melancholy to the way Jack the former has to walk because he can’t get change for a thousand).

Walsh: Yeah, in the next life.

Midnight Run is probably thought of as an action comedy, but it’s not an action movie in the way its sort-of competitor Die Hard is. Midnight Run propels forward through locations and set pieces, but the aforementioned is the only really big action scene (and there’s a distinct lack of killing too). It’s a testament to the work of Brest and Gallo that the whole feels so propulsive, that a movie filled with so much talking – two guys bantering – is so alive and gusty. Midnight Run is lightning in a bottle and, fortunately now De Niro’s into his 70s, I think we can probably forget about the proposed sequel, or anybody taking a shit on something. At least until Brett Ratner plunges into the remake with Bradley Cooper as Walsh and Miley Cyrus in the Grodin part.