FILMS

Lethal wit and weaponry

MIDNIGHT RUN Directed by Martin Brest DIE HARD Directed by John McTiernan

Brian D. Johnson August 1 1988
FILMS

Lethal wit and weaponry

MIDNIGHT RUN Directed by Martin Brest DIE HARD Directed by John McTiernan

Brian D. Johnson August 1 1988

Lethal wit and weaponry

FILMS

MIDNIGHT RUN Directed by Martin Brest DIE HARD Directed by John McTiernan

Now that Hollywood’s studios have rolled out their big guns—from Eddie Murphy to Roger Rabbit—in the battle for the summer box office, along come two unlikely contenders: Robert De Niro and Bruce Willis. De Niro’s Midnight Run and Willis’s Die Hard are a pair of lateblooming action comedies that could be the season’s sleeper hits.

Their stars represent opposite extremes of the talent spectrum. De Niro is a character actor known for Oscar-winning feats (Raging Bull).

Willis, the smart-alec private eye from Moonlighting, is an overexposed TV personality with a legendary ego.

But in their new movies, they both portray working-class heroes who combine a noble sense of mission with a profane sense of humor. Both characters are separated from their wives.

Both are maverick law-

men who get trapped in a squeeze between armed camps of gangsters and police. And although Midnight Run and Die Hard are radically different in style, in each case an ingenious script transcends a familiar formula. Midnight Run is a buddy movie. De Niro plays Jack, a tough and doggedly honest former cop turned bounty hunter. A bail bondsman promises him $100,000 if he can track down a bailjumping embezzler in New York City and bring him back alive to the authorities in Los Angeles. Charles Gro-

din costars as the embezzler, a mildmannered accountant named Jonathan who stole $15 million from a ruthless mobster, giving most of the money to charity. As Jack drags his handcuffed charge across America by train, bus and car, they become targets for the Mafia, the FBI and a rival bounty hunter. There are moments in the film that betray director Martin Brest’s background as the maker of Beverly Hills Cop — including the mandatory chase scene that leaves the countryside littered with

smashed squad cars. But otherwise, Midnight Run is a witty, low-key comedy with the accent on character. Individually, De Niro and Grodin are brilliant; together, they are hilarious. His face creased with shifting currents of anxiety and rage, De Niro is utterly believable as a working stiff desperately trying to do his job. And Grodin, as the relaxed white-collar criminal who chides his captor about the dangers of smoking, serves as his deadpan foil. His complicity with the audience is so complete, he triggers laughs with just a subtle glance.

Unlike Grodin or De Niro, Bruce Willis—who received $5 million for Die Hard—is no character actor. The prospect of seeing Willis as a bare-chested warrior, his smirk looming larger than life on the big screen, may keep some people away from Die Hard. But with an arsenal of plastic explosives and well-scripted wisecracks, Willis blows Rambo, Conan and Dirty Harry to kingdom come. Die Hard is quite simply the best action movie in years.

Willis portrays John, a New York City policeman who arrives in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and their two children. John shows up at the 34-storey office tower where Holly, an executive with a Japan-based conglomerate, is attending a corporate Christmas party. Meanwhile, 12 terrorists, armed to the teeth, take over the building and seal it off. Holding the partygoers hostage, they go to work on a safe containing $600 million in bonds. But John, who is hiding in the wings, disrupts their plans. Die Hard contains a running parody of action movies. The media, the police and the FBI are all held up to ridicule, and the chief terrorist, who behaves like a suave executive, brands John “another orphan of a bankrupt culture who has seen too many movies.”

The picture is extremely violent: bombs go off, bullets rip through flesh, heads are slammed against steel. But Die Hard is also smart, satirical—and, in an odd way, heartwarming. The movie employs every thriller cliché available—from the hero who dangles by his fingernails above the abyss to the moronic thug who refuses to die. But, clichés are delivered with an ironic twist.

Die Hard explodes on the screen like rock ’n’ roll; Midnight Run unwinds like slow blues. But both are variations on the American myth of the lone-gun hero. Both feature protagonists who express their frustration with highly imaginative uses of the F-word. Amid the violence, profane wit remains the most lethal weapon of all.

-BRIAN D. JOHNSON