Year In Review ’88: ‘Midnight Run’ and the curious case of Martin Brest


No one has ever quite solved the mystery of what happened to Martin Brest.

The New York born filmmaker was responsible for some of the most beloved movies of the 1980s and 1990s. By the time he was in his mid-30s, a remarkably young age to be a director in Hollywood, Martin Brest had already created Eddie Murphy’s starring vehicle ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ and the studio caper ‘Going In Style’ which was recently remade by Zach Braff with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Both movies were enormously successful (‘Beverly Hills Cop’ in particular did gangbusters at the global box office and spurred three sequels, none of which Brest had any involvement with) and he would follow it up with a run of form unrivalled by many other filmmakers of his generation. He directed Al Pacino to his first Oscar in ‘Scent Of A Woman’, a film that also scored Brest a Best Director nod, and had critical and financial success with the Brad Pitt led ‘Meet Joe Black’.

Martin Brest’s most acclaimed picture, and arguably the best movie he directed, was the superlative action comedy ‘Midnight Run’. Robert De Niro stars as Jack Walsh in the film, a bounty hunter employed by LA-based bail bondsman Eddie Moscone. Eddie has a lucrative job offer for Jack: he will pay $10,000 for him to apprehend a former Mafia accountant, Charles Grodin’s Jonathon Mardukis, and return him to Los Angeles for a court appointment. However, upon capturing him, Jack sets in motion a dangerous cat-and-mouse chase. The Mafia intend to kill Jonathon, FBI agents wish to apprehend him to testify in a separate case they are building against the mob, and a rival bounty hunter aims to intercept the ransom for himself.

If you can suspend your disbelief and accept the many contrivances that occur to forward the plot, Martin Brest’s movie is a deliriously entertaining coast-to-coast thrill-ride. It briskly unfolds as Jack attempts to deliver the prize in a race against the clock with a plethora of foes determined to prevent him from reaching his destination. Each set piece, from a helicopter chase across the Arizona mountain ranges to a shoot out in a bustling Chicago cityscape, is set to a jaunty Danny Elfman score that maintains the movie’s light tone. Meanwhile, George Gallo’s script is infused with a wisecracking humour that Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin deliver impeccably, as do its wealth of scenery-chewing supporting actors including the great Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano and Yaphet Kotto. Blending the suspense of Hitchcock with the slapstick of Wilder, ‘Midnight Run’ was an early indication that Martin Brest was a man of extraordinary talent.

Then, it all went wrong: he made a bad movie. Every filmmaker has one of them. Even Spielberg has an ‘Always’ on his resume, even Lynch has ‘Dune’. However, this was not just any bad movie. It was a movie that continues to be considered one of the worst in cinema history: the early 2000s travesty ‘Gigli’ starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. The film, for those curious about its reputation, currently holds a place on IMDb’s list of all-time worst movies between a ‘Dracula’ remake made by the stuntman for ‘The Nutty Professor’ and the FIFA-funded Sepp Blatter biopic ‘United Passions’. Most filmmakers have a black spot on their resume but few leave quite as big a stain as ‘Gigli’ did on Martin Brest’s.

He disappeared after ‘Gigli’s release. He never made another movie, never gave so much as an interview. The last trace of his existence is a thank-you credit on Ben Affleck’s directorial debut ‘Gone Baby Gone’ which has released a decade ago (Affleck and Brest remained friends after ‘Gigli’ despite the damage it did to their careers). Whether he was run out of Hollywood or went into a self-imposed exile because of ‘Gigli’s shameful reception remains a mystery. It is impossible, furthermore, to know if Martin Brest will stage a comeback after almost fifteen years of absence. However, given the resurgence of action comedies in 2017 that owe an enormous debt to the style of ‘Midnight Run’ – from Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn’s ‘Snatched’ to the ‘Baywatch’ remake – the world is more than ready for the return of Martin Brest.

‘Midnight Run’ is 16th in our ranking of the best movies of 1988. You can find the full list in our 1988 Year In Review series.


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