Follow TV Tropes


Film / Midnight Madness

Go To

Midnight Madness is a 1980 Comedy film from Walt Disney Pictures, written and directed by the team of Michael Nankin and David Wechter.

It centers around "The Great All-Nighter", an all-night scavenger hunt type game put on by a nerdy gaming aficionado named Leon. In this game, five teams of students and faculty from Los Angeles Community College are to race around the city, searching for hidden clues that will ultimately lead them to the finish line and victory.

The players include:

  • The Yellow Team: consisting of counselor Adam Larson (David Naughton, who at the time was best known for dancing around in commercials for Dr. Pepper), his love interest Laura, his friend Marvin, whose trusty Land Cruiser provides the team's transportation, and Flynch, a nervous and awkward freshman who Adam has been counselling. Along the way, the team is forced to add Adam's younger brother Scott (Michael J. Fox in his first big-screen role) to their ranks, after he tries to run away from home and the brothers' parents are out of town. The members are largely pleasant and well-meaning individuals who play fair and join the game to have a fun time.
  • The Blue Team: consisting of the rude, slovenly, and gluttonous Harold (Stephen Furst), his hen-pecking girlfriend Lucille, the silent and stoic Blade, perpetual troublemaker Melio, and the dim-witted Barf. Their transportation consists of a custom van with a clue-solving computer gifted to Harold by his rich father, who forces Harold to compete in the game to turn him into a winner. They serve as the main antagonists, preferring to taunt the other players and cheat whenever the situation arises.
  • The Green Team: consisting of Lavitus, captain of the school's football team, and his fellow players Blaylak, Cudzo, Gerber, and Armpit. Dubbing themselves "the Meat Machine", and often using their brawn to solve clues, the rambunctious, beer-guzzling, party-loving football jocks join the game to prove themselves as the greatest athletes in school, even off the field. Their transportation is a Volkswagen Beetle which they have dubbed "the Meat Wagon".
  • The Red Team: consisting of the sole four members of the unpopular Zeta House sorority. The members include house leader Donna, feisty feminist Berle, and perpetually giddy and overweight twins Peggy and Lulu, whose transportation is a pick-up truck that is gradually wrecked, forcing them to share transportation with the White Team. The sorority sisters enter the game to get back at the jocks, who crashed an induction party they were throwing and wrecked their chances at gaining more members.
  • The White Team: consisting of Wesley (Eddie Deezen), the bespectacled, intelligent, and dorky leader of the school's debate team, and his similarly-nerdy fellow debaters. As the smartest players, the team attempts to analyze every clue they find very carefully, but they don't always get the right answers. Much like the Red Team, the debaters enter the game to get back at the jocks, who they consider unintelligent vulgarians, for pelting them with vegetables during one of their debates. They are the only team not to use an automobile for their transportation, instead travelling alongside each other on matching mopeds.

Originally released without the Disney brand and with a dismal box-office run in theaters, the film became a Cult Classic after it hit the pay-cable-channel circuit.

These tropes are cleverly hidden (and not-so-cleverly hidden) in the film:

  • 555: Subverted. Harold's phone number, given to a police officer by one of his teammates, is 347-1347.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: While inside the Pabst brewery, Blaylak becomes overwhelmed by the massive amount of beer present and goes for a swim in one of the brewery's refrigeration vats.
  • All There in the Manual: A first-time viewer wouldn't know why the team captains would exclaim Leon's name like they did when he revealed himself early in the movie. The novelization tells of various other exploits of Leon's that gained him infamy on campus, including one that caused several students to return to the campus midsummer in order to take a test that would allow them to graduate.
  • And Starring: Stephen Furst, who plays main antagonist Harold.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Marvin's truck is referred to throughout the film as a Jeep, even though it's actually a Toyota Land Cruiser, with the name TOYOTA even being prominently displayed on the grille.
  • Big Eater / Jabba Table Manners: Harold is constantly seen shoving junk food down his throat, to the point where Lucille puts him on a diet. He goes right back to it not even halfway through the game, and at the end of the movie, thoroughly exhausted by getting to the Bonaventure Hotel's 27th floor via the stairs, gorges himself on the celeboratory buffet being thrown for the Yellow Team.
  • Big Fun: Peggy and Lulu, a pair of overweight twins from the Red Team who constantly giggle at everything. They're seen getting down on the dance floor when their team scopes out the Stargate Disco for a clue, and later run into a carnival for a few dozen rides.
  • The Big Race: The central plot of the film has five teams racing to grab and solve various clues from different locations throughout Los Angeles, then crossing the finish line first.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Leon notes that the winning team gets a trophy, but more importantly, the chance to prove to the other teams that their team is better.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Once the Red and White teams are kicked out of the hotel and forbidden from re-entry, Wesley crosses his arms and pouts before peering around a corner and finding the employee entrance. He then looks right at the camera, a delighted smile across his face.
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: The AM frequency for information regarding LAX Airport is taken over by Leon at one point, who uses the intercom to provide the next clue.
  • The Cameo: A pre-Pee-Wee Herman Paul Reubens plays the owner of Pinball City.
  • Clue of Few Words: After looking between the "two giant melons", the only clue to the next destination is a necklace that says "Hug Me". The Yellow Team manages to unscramble it to "Huge M", leading them to the giant "M" on the sign of Miniature Golf World.
  • Cool Car: The Blue Team's van, equipped with a turbo-charged engine, a clue-solving supercomputer, and red-hot flames on a blue paint job.
  • Color-Coded Characters: The teams all put on shirts with matching colors, and by some Contrived Coincidence, the vehicles' colors are matched as well. Even the envelopes given to each team captain to invite them to Leon's apartment were the same colors.
  • Developer's Foresight: Leon is shown to have put failsafes in his game for players who try to cheat, such as Harold skipping to the 18th hole at Miniature Golf World. The failsafe in this particular instance forces the cheaters to play the whole course over again after losing their ball.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Blaylak accidentally does this when the clue in the Piano Museum rings a bell. Of course, three of the four other teams are present when his realization hits.
    Blaylak: Wait a second, I know that song anywhere. (plays the notes on the toy piano) "I got Pabst Blue Ribbon on my mind." It's the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer song... THE NEXT CLUE MUST BE AT THE PABST BREWERY!
    Literally all the other teams present: Thanks, Blaylak!
  • Dirty Kid: A young boy uses the telescope housed in Griffith Park Observatory to get a look at "Venus' two moons" (a woman undressing herself in her bedroom window). After spotting the clue, Adam has the telescope set back to the bedroom window, distracting Green Team long enough for them to take the lead.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Green Team, which consists of rambunctious, partying, beer-guzzling jocks on the football team.
  • Elevator Failure: During the race to the finish line, the Yellow Team is stuck in the hotel's elevator during a momentary power failure.
  • Elevator Snare:
    • Adam gets into one express elevator and it closes just before Harold can get there, forcing Harold to take the other one...
    • Again, Adam gets to the elevator to the guest rooms before Harold can get there, and Harold takes the stairs, but not before he shuts off all the elevators.
  • Enemy Mine: The White Team (who were prevented from finding out where the finish line was but still have transportation) and the Red Team (who know where the finish line is but their transportation was destroyed) end up joining forces against their mutual enemies, the jocks of the Green Team, who separately inconvenienced both of them early in the film.
  • Epic Race: The plot of the film, and it's a race that takes all night to finish.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: This happens quite a lot. Most notably, when the Green Team stumbles upon the next clue in the Piano Museum. Blaylak recognizes the musical notes that make up the clue as the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer jingle. He excitedly notes that the next clue is in the Pabst brewery, to which every other team sarcastically thanks him.
  • Fat Bastard: Harold, leader of the Blue Team, is a grouchy Big Eater who can barely go ten minutes without cheating or stuffing his face.
  • Fiery Redhead: Berle from the Red Team is a young red-haired woman who is very fiery and outspoken about her dislike of men, especially for the jocks on the Green Team.
  • Forgotten Birthday: The film is revealed to be set on Scott's birthday, and one of the reasons he's so bitter is because Adam's too caught up in the game to remember.
  • Freudian Excuse: Harold's rotten attitude and his hatred of Adam comes from his father, a perpetual winner who dumps on him for being a loser, and forces Harold into the game to prove himself as a winner.
  • Game Master: Leon, who comes up with the Great All-Nighter and monitors the whole thing from Game Control (his apartment).
  • Gilligan Cut: Following the fight at Pinball City, which results in the White Team not being able to get the clue due to the arcade machine it was in getting destroyed, and the Red Team's truck being accidentally thrown off a cliff, the leaders of both teams shout at each other when one of the members of the White Team suggest that both teams come to an agreement. Both leaders shout "NEVER!!!" at each other, but the very next shot has both teams commuting to the finish line on the White Team's mopeds.
  • Hidden Depths: Blaylak of the Green Team, made solely of Dumb Jocks, can read music and play the piano.
    • Barf from the Blue Team can also play, as he and Melio try to cheer up the sobbing Harold by playing a duet of "Heart and Soul".
  • Huddle Shot: Right after all the teams are given the first clue, the Green team (being all football players) huddle as their quarterback gives them a pep talk to start.
  • Hufflepuff House: While the White Team gets just as much screentime as the others, its members are a lot less fleshed out. Only one of them gets a name (Wesley) while every member of the other four teams is named.
  • Idiot Ball: Every team grabs the ball at some point, but a particularly bad example occurs when the White and Red Teams decide to drive the White Team's mopeds around the Bonaventure Hotel's lobby for no apparent reason, causing them to get thrown out.
  • Jerkass: Harold and the rest of the Blue Team.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Scott is a bit of a troublemaker at times, but it's only because he wants attention from his brother, and he's justifiably angry that he forgot his birthday. Other than this, he's a good kid.
  • The Load:
    • Peggy and Lulu of the Red Team slow down Donna and Berle by boogieing at the Stargate Disco and hopping off their truck and into a carnival. It was pure luck the Red Team ever got back in the race at that point.
    • None of Harold's team are seen being helpful to him at any point. The closest any of them came was when Barf tried to mention the airport's radio station being 530 AM before Harold stops him.
  • Lovable Nerd: Leon, creator of the Great All-Nighter. His neighbors bang on his door to complain about the noise coming from his apartment, but when he sits them down and tells them what's going on, they have a change of heart and enjoy the game right alongside him. Even the cops whom his landlady calls to have his game shut down end up joining him, slapping the cuffs on her instead.
  • MacGyvering: Marvin manages to get an elevator running again with Scott's retainer.
  • Male Gaze: The clue at Johnnie's Fat Boy Burgers, listed on the menu, calls for the teams to "Look between the two giant melons!" While the teams inside order tons of melon to snack on, it turns out that the next clue is actually contained on the necklace of the restaurant's well-endowed waitress.
  • Meaningful Name: Mrs. Grimhaus, Leon's landlady, who despises him with a passion and tries to have him evicted and even arrested due to the noise his equipment is generating. Given her attitude, her building itself could be considered a grim house.
  • Nerd Glasses: Leon and the White Team, the game master and a bunch of dorks on the school's debate team.
  • No More for Me: Blaylak is a hard-drinkin' man, even by the standards of the hulking party animals that are the Green Team. His going for a swim in a refrigeration vat in the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery is apparently what he considers enough for one night.
  • Only Sane Man: Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens, dressed in a ridiculous cowboy costume, tries to calmly and rationally talk down the teams in Pinball City from tearing the place apart.
  • Product Placement: Brands are crucial to the game, so the trope definitely comes into play. The game takes the teams to the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery, Johnnie's Fat Boy Burgers, and the Bonaventure Hotel. In Pinball City, the Star Fire arcade game by Exidy is the source of one of the last clues, an automated message from Leon that can only be played by winning the game.
  • Recycled In Space: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for teens in The '80s.
  • Red Herring: At Miniature Golf World, Harold decides to skip the entirety of the course and head straight for the 18th hole. When he sinks the ball, a flag pops up with a note on it. The note, from Leon, tells Harold that he shouldn't have cheated; he lost his ball and now has to complete the whole course again.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Not for items, but for clues.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Debatable with Leon. He dresses like a bohemian and stays in a half-decent apartment, but he manages to curry the favor of an observatory, a piano museum, a major brand brewery, a chain restaurant, a miniature golf course, a pinball arcade, an airport, and a posh hotel to go along with his game. That means he'd have to shell out some serious dough to keep these places operational in the middle of the night, not to mention hire a few extra personnel and have a reward ceremony with trophy for the winners.
  • Slower Than a Snail: After the Blue Team sabotages their Jeep, Adam and Flynch try hitch-hiking to Miniature Golf World. The first people to pick them up are an elderly couple in a '57 Chevy sedan that is literally moving at a snail's pace.
  • Solve the Soup Cans: The clues vary in detail and procedure, from playing a commercial jingle on a toy piano, to rearranging letters on a necklace, to forming a business name from a bunch of objects, to beating a high score on a video game.
  • El Spanish "-o": Harold uses this accent with Rosita, the maid at his house, after intentionally making a mess and ordering her to clean it up.
  • The Stoic: Blade. His expression never changes from an intimidating scowl, except for one point at the end, when he smiles after watching Harold shove a pie in Lucille's face, causing her to fall backwards into a pool after she chastises him for breaking his diet for the umpteenth time. He manages to catch himself and goes right back to the scowl.
  • Troll: Melio loves to get Harold in trouble with Lucille for cheating on his diet, for no other reason than to watch the chaos.
  • The Voiceless: Blade has no dialogue, and only communicates by shaking his head and giving the odd Death Glare.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Harold is shown to have a domineering father who keeps an office full of trophies and berates him for being a slob who has nothing going for him, noting that Adam has a much more promising future down the road than him. As such, he forces Harold to enter the game and win it to prove to him that he's a winner.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Given what happened to Leon's landlady Mrs. Grimhaus, one can't help but wonder if he'll be homeless once she gets out of prison. The novelization has a postmortem where she says that she did gain respect for Leon after the game, saying that she wouldn't want to kick out a celebrity of her apartment complex.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Adam is an all around good guy, but he treats his brother Scott like crap and forgets about his birthday. The rest of the team, Laura particularly, isn't afraid to let him know it.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: It's not Bob's Big Boy, it's Johnnie's Fat Boy!
    • It could've been averted, as the clue given could have been "Mr. Barker's Obese Male Child". But the management behind Bob's Big Boy must've gotten a bit antsy...