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  Midnight Madness Fagabeefe?
Year: 1980
Director: Michael Nankin, David Wechter
Stars: David Naughton, Debra Clinger, Stephen Furst, Maggie Roswell, Eddie Deezen, Brad Wilkin, Alan Solomon, David Damas, Michael J. Fox, Patricia Alice Albrecht, Andy Tennant, Brian Frishman, Joel Kenney, Sal Lopez, Robyn Petty, Dirk Blocker, Paul Reubens
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two rollerskating girls are visiting five specific college students around the campus and handing over colour-coded envelopes. When Adam (David Naughton) receives his, he asks them what this is about and who has sent them, only to be told it's a secret. Intrigued, he and his four fellow students who got their invitations attend a room that evening, only to have their sense of anticipation deflated when the chap who sent out the envelopes makes his presence apparent: it's resident brainbox Leon (Alan Solomon) and he has a game for them to play. He has spent months working it out, so if they'd all like to assemble on Friday night they can begin. As if they would!

Disney's first PG-rated movie was The Black Hole, but what was their second? Why, it was Midnight Madness, which happened to be released around the same time of the similar Scavenger Hunt, and was a flop into the bargain. Even though they had kept quiet about the House of Mouse involvement to try and bring in a hipper audience, this film was yet another example of their floundering during the eighties where their hit rate was far fewer than their substantial miss rate. And yet, over the years it garnered a following when it showed up on television, so that, like the other Disney flops of this time, it too can be counted a cult movie.

The men behind this ambitious project were writer-directors Michael Nankin and David Wechter, both of whom chiefly ended up working in TV (although Nankin penned another cult teen movie, The Gate, as well). It had obviously been carefully planned and no clue in the game is a mere throwaway bit of business, with the players having to think hard about where they're supposed to be heading. They need some persuading to compete, but when their pride is at stake they are determined to succeed and there is no dead wood amongst them, indeed the contest grows pretty heated with the less scrupulous resorting to cheating.

The yellow team, that is Adam's, are the heroes so if you fancy a spot of solving the problem of who will finally triumph then you might care to place a bet on them. This might have been better if it had been more like Wacky Races where the audience weren't sure who would win, as apart from the villainous blue team led by Stephen Furst's Harold the others tend towards comic relief. The red team, led by future Simpsons voice talent Maggie Roswell, are all-female, with no time for men, the white team are the nerds led by - of course - Eddie Deezen and the green team are a bunch of hard-drinking jocks. They all get their chance to solve the clues after a fashion, and it's quite easy to get caught up in it all.

However, this is a Disney movie so someone had the bright idea to bring Adam's young brother Michael J. Fox into the equation. As the yellows zoom about Los Angeles by night, they spot the boy running away from home and this builds up to a tearful reunion between the brothers, with Adam admitting that he has been neglecting his sibling all this time. Plonked into a wealth of lowest common denominator jokes about fat people and their appetites, this wholesome family aspect sticks out like a sore thumb, but what really makes an impression are the attempts to make a kid's film edgy. This means gags about virginity, spying on a woman undressing with an observatory telescope and one of the clues hidden between two melons, except Leon doesn't mean the fruit. Midnight Madness summons energy enough to last its near-two hour running time and if it's nowhere close to being cool in spite of their best efforts, it is diverting, its overpowering lack of cool being oddly hypnotic. Music by Julius Wechter.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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