Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a bounty hunter who is currently trying to break into a hotel room, or he is until part of the door above his head is blasted with a shotgun. Tentatively he peeks through the hole to catch sight of the gunman escaping through the window, and gives chase, ending up running down the fire escape after him. Just as it looks as if he has the felon cornered, the man is floored by a passing car and rival bounty hunter Marvin (John Ashton) steps in to make the capture. Jack is having none of this and knocks out Marvin, taking the prisoner to the nearest police station; he's damn good at his job, but he's about to meet his match in the unassuming guise of Mob embezzler Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin).
When Midnight Run was initially released, it was well received but didn't make too many waves, widely seen as just another eighties buddy movie of which there were a plethora during that decade. However, as time went by and more people caught up with it, whether on video or late night television (the uncensored version, naturally), it gained a higher status than simply yet another disposable on the run thriller: it had won a bona fide cult following. This can be put down to the playing as the odd couple of De Niro and Grodin, while not the most obvious choice (Robin Williams was originally up for Grodin's role), worked like a dream.
Of course, that dream is something of a nightmare for the characters, but nevertheless there's a surprising amount of funny lines, many improvised, to greet the accomodating viewer. When Jack is told of Jonathan by his boss, Eddie (Joe Pantoliano) he thinks this job will be a cinch, and is delighted to be awarded such a lucrative assignment: if all goes well, he should finally be able to retire from the bounty hunting business and set up that restaurant he always wanted, living the quiet life. And for a while it seems as if he has the deal all sewn up as he expertly tracks Jonathan to the New York hideaway he shares with his wife.
On the other hand, once Jack finally has his charge on the plane, he hits the snag that Jonathan has a phobia about flying. Jack doesn't know it, but the fact that they have to leave the aircraft and take the train may have saved both their skins. Why? Because not only are the F.B.I. on their tail (wily Jack has stolen the badge of agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) mainly because he pissed him off, though it comes in handy too), but the Mafia are as well, planning to kill Jonathan the second he steps off the plane. It doesn't end there, either, as Eddie has lost faith in Jack and sent the bullish Marvin after him for a lower reward, not that Marvin knows that. The stage is set for a road movie.
It's not until late on in the film that you cotton on to how future director George Gallo has fashioned his script with clockwork precision - it really does all tie up with satisfying ease. Placing Grodin into a Robert De Niro thriller is frankly bizarre, but the sparks he generates with the star make them both oddly endearing, whether it's with longsuffering Jack's profanity-laced dialogue ("I got two words for you: shut the fuck up"), or Jonathan's needling and straightlaced personality. Yet Jonathan still remains a curious enigma, even at the end, in that you're never sure of his motives; after all, he stole from the rich (Mafia boss Dennis Farina) to give to the poor, but he's not above lying to get his way. There are action sequences along the journey, but it's the two terrific stars who make the most favourable impression, even if that finale is a little too fairy tale to believe. Music by Danny Elfman.