From a time when Jeff Goldblum was a lead actor. Those were the days!
One of John Landis’ more overlooked gems, this is a delightfully offbeat comedy thriller that has nothing special to boast plot-wise, but more than gets by thanks to the often unpredictable tonal swerves (poor doggie), not to mention some winning performances – remember when Jeff Goldblum was a leading star? We should have loved him more at the time – now all we get is the news that he’s going to be in the upcoming Independence Day sequel. Meh. Here he plays Ed, an aerospace engineer whose life is going nowhere slowly – he suffers from insomnia, his work is boring, his wife is having an affair… it’s enough to make a man go out for an aimless car drive to the airport, you know? That’s when a terrified smuggler named Diana jumps onto his bonnet trying to get away from killers. The killers are Iranian, and given that this is the eighties, this is one of many films of that time where all Middle Eastern characters are dodgy/crooked. One of the killers happens to be played by the director, who is not Iranian, but passes off as such convicingly. He doesn’t talk, and if you’ve heard Landis speak, then you know why he didn’t do so playing the part of an Iranian. There are around sixteen other directors who make cameo appearances in this film – Landis was awfully fond of doing this, and Into the Night might be the apex of such shenanigans. For some though, this was the height of self-indulgence. I didn’t care, to be honest – I didn’t recognise all of them anyway, the obvious exception being David Cronenberg, who shows up at the start.
Anyway, Diana the smuggler is played by an extraordinarily beautiful Michelle Pfieffer (the camera loves her, and I guess I do too – it’s been that way since I saw Grease 2), and she gets poor Ed caught up into a convoluted plot that probably makes sense if you can be bothered to think about it. The most important thing here is that the film succeeds on sheer brio and charm – the pacing is surprisingly lesisurely, which makes sense given Ed’s exhausted-but-can’t-sleep condition, and the blending of physical comedy with surprisingly tough violence gives it all an edgy excitement. A very welcome element is the appearance of David Bowie as a moustachioed hitman who only gets a couple of scenes but makes the most of them, especially in the first where he exudes utterly genial charm whilst forcing a gun in poor Ed’s mouth. Pity we never find out what happens to his character though. This, plus a rather casual attitude to another supporting character’s murder two-thirds in does mean that the film is somewhat guilty of being pretty slapdash. There’s also the overcooked bluesy score which dates the film a bit – it’s that eighties blues style which manages to make this usually timeless form of music utterly tied in with its time, and not in a good way. Have you ever heard this Eric Clapton song called ‘Same Old Blues’? It came out in the mid-eighties and is basically the same old blues that he’s relied on for most of his career, except now he made it all contemporary by covering everything with slabs of synth. It’s not great. Stick with ‘Behind the Mask’. Don’t recognise it? Yeah, you do. It’s the one that goes ‘who do you love?’ about a millon times. It’s brilliant. So is Into the Night, by the way. It’s slight, it’s forgettable, but having seen it for the first time in twenty years, I’d forgotten just how much fun it was.
Oddly, the film seems to end in the exact same way as Landis’ later film Innocent Blood, but without all the vampire references.