Sunday, 22 January 2012

Exploding Helicopter - Midnight Run

My work at Exploding Helicopter H.Q. means I have to sit through a lot of cinematic turkeys in order to catalogue the fiery delights that light up their otherwise turgid bowels. So, imagine my sheer joy at being able to actually review a film that I enjoyed from start to finish. I almost wept real tears.

Bobby De Niro plays embittered bounty hunter Jack Walsh out to do one last big money job (it’s always the last job isn’t it?) by tracking down and escorting embezzling mob accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) from N.Y to L.A. whilst avoiding the attentions of the Mafia, FBI and rival bounty hunter (John Ashton). Think of it as Beverly Hills Cop meets Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Kudos to director Martin Brest for sticking to his guns, despite intense pressure from Paramount to ditch Grodin in favour of bigger name, as the chemistry between the emotionally repressed De Niro and Grodin’s laconic Mardukas is a joy. As with all great actors in their element they can say more with a couple of looks then lesser actors with a page of dialogue. As they lurch from disaster to disaster the nuanced comedy and non sequiturs elevate the film from what could have been Road Trip territory into a bona fide classic.

Great though it may be that is no guarantee of entry into the hallowed vaults at E.H.H.Q. Luckily for cast and crew, the powers at be had the good sense to include a chopper fireball in order for us to allow their admittance.

De Niro, Grodin and Ashton find themselves on the wrong end of machine gun fire as their car is peppered by trigger happy enforcers in a helicopter, who have picked up their trail in Amarillo, Texas. The goons manage to force the car off the road and Grodin winds up in the river, totally exposed to the hovering chopper and its impressive firepower. Just as the Mob is about to finish off the job, De Niro takes careful aim at the copter’s rotor arm and with a couple of well placed shots from his pistol causing the chopper to spin wildly out of control like a bucking bronco at too high a speed. It veers too close to the cliff face and WHAM! It goes up like a shellsuit on bonfire night.

Artistic merit

A pleasingly large CGI free explosion with some nice supporting shots of the debris rolling down the cliff side and a lingering pyrotechnical aftermath.

No surprise that Beverly Hills Cop director Martin Brest is at the helm as the film also contains the familiar mix of action and humour. However he has cut back on the Gorgonzola as the movie has a surprising amount of pathos, morality and sensitivity amongst the normal cheesy one liners, wailing guitar soundtracks and formulaic car chases that are the staple diet of this genre. The scene involving Walsh’s daughter and the final goodbye between Walsh and Mardukas are genuinely moving moments.

Exploding Helicopter Innovation:

Nothing of any real note but the whole set piece is nicely shot and handled with enough skill to satisfy most exploding helicopter enthusiasts.

No of exploding helicopters:


Do the Passengers survive?:

Unless they are made of asbestos, no.


The casting director should be applauded for a fantastic ensemble cast. If the alchemy between DeNiro and Grodin doesn’t wet your whistle then you have Yaphet Kotto chewing up the screen as the menacing Agent Mosely (you might remember him as Parker in Alien), slime-ball loan shark Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone AKA Francis Fratelli in The Goonies), John Ashton (lunk-headed rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler AKA Sgt Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop) and Dennis Farina as badda-binging Mob boss Jimmy Serrano. You might not know their names but you definitely know their faces.


If I were hyper critical I would question the Mob’s decision to hire a machine gun toting helicopter as a means of discretely locating a missing fugitive. I guess the Mafia isn’t synonymous with subtlety.

Film historians might point to DeNiro’s subsequent Golden Globe nomination as the catalyst for his slippery descent into the legacy-threatening light comedy hell that has been Analyze That, Shark Tale and Little Fockers. Don’t get cocky kid.

Favourite Quote:

Jonathan Mardukas: No I don't have to do better than that, because it's the truth. I can't fly. I suffer from aviaphobia.
Jack Walsh: What does that mean?
Jonathan Mardukas: It means I can't fly. I also suffer from claustrophobia and agoraphobia.
Jack Walsh: Well if you don't shut up, pretty soon you're gonna suffer from fistaphobia.

Interesting fact:

Grodin decided to take a 13yr hiatus after starring in Beethoven and eschewed the Hollywood lifestyle to be a stay-at-home dad to his kids. Aaah, what a bloody nice bloke.

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