De Niro is Jack Walsh, an unfairly disgraced ex-cop turned bounty hunter charged with finding fugitive mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Grodin) and returning him to Los Angeles before the deadline expires on his bond. Walsh must travel cross-country while contending with: a rival bounty hunter; the FBI, which is trying to catch Mardukas; the Mafia, which is trying to kill him; and Mardukas, whose eccentricities make him a difficult prisoner.
Tropes in this film:
- Anachronism Stew: At the time of the film's release $1000 dollar bills had been out of circulation for 20 years.
- Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster: Mardukas, to the point that he deserves to be a Trope Codifier. Firstly, he convinces Jack that he has a fear of flying by having an extravagant freak-out on an airliner, thereby obliging them to travel from New York to LA over land. He then makes the most of the time he's gained by making Jack drop his guard, firstly by behaving like an apparently hapless dweeb, but at the same time asking Jack Armor Piercing Questions, offering him genuinely useful advice, and otherwise befriending him, to the point that when they finally arrive at their destination, Jack has become so fond of Mardukas that he lets him go.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- "Why aren't you popular with the Chicago Police Department?"
- "What happened to you?"
- Serrano to Walsh: "Does it bother you that another copper's fucking your wife? You know they made this guy a captain?"
- Authentication by Newspaper: Marvin does this to prove to the mob that he's got Mardukas. Unfortunately for him, he photographed Mardukas holding the newspaper with the towels from the motel where they're staying clearly visible, and since the towels clearly have the motel's name on them, it's easy for the mobsters to get Mardukas without having to pay Marvin.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Jack and Mardukas, duh. Jack gets the Duke to LA before midnight on Friday, as he'd promised he would, but then lets Mardukas go without any prospect of reward. Mardukas is so touched that he gives Jack the $300,000 he'd been carrying all along as travel money.
- Big Bad: Jimmy Serrano, The Mafia boss who ruined Walsh's career and is now pursuing the Duke.
- Bounty Hunter: Jack's job after being unfairly branded a crooked cop. It still lets him catch bad guys.
- Bowdlerise: Grodin's rant about plane crashes was heavily edited for airplane showings of the movie, for obvious reasons.
- Chained Heat: Jack handcuffs the Duke to him on purpose, but this becomes a straighter example when they're running from the mob while being handcuffed together.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Nearly everyone in the movie.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Jack's a pottymouth. So are Eddie Moscone and Jimmy Serrano.
"If I hear any more shit outta you, I'm gonna bust your fuckin' head, put you back in that fuckin' hole, stick your head in the fuckin' toilet bowl, and make it stay there!"
- The entire movie is a carpet F-bombing campaign. There is hardly a scene where it isn't dropped, repeatedly.
- The Consigliere: Serrano's advisor Sidney, whose advice Jimmy frequently disregards.
- Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Apparently Grodin suffered permanent scarring from the handcuffs.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: The above f bomb example. Also, practically all of Jimmy Serrano's threats to his henchmen are like this.
- Death Glare: Mosley to Jack, after this exchange:Moseley: (gloating) "What should be of paramount importance to you right now is that you're going to spend ten years for impersonating a federal agent."Walsh: "Ten years for impersonating a fed?"Moseley: "Ten years!"Walsh: "How come no one's after you?"
- Walsh to Serrano, after Serrano asks how he feels about another man, a cop no less, fucking his wife.
- Dirty Cop: Apparently, most of the cops in Chicago were on Jimmy Serrano's payroll. Walsh refused to take bribes, and was thus unfairly drummed out of the force.
- Disappeared Dad: Jack Walsh to his family after being run out of Chicago. See Tear Jerker on YMMV.
- Enemy Mine: Jack Walsh, Marvin Dorfler and Alonzo Moseley at various points in the movie.
- Everybody Smokes: Played straight with most of the characters, especially Jack, who lights up every chance he can get (and in late '80s America there are plenty); averted with Mardukas, who not only doesn't smoke but urges Jack to put his cigarette out for the sake of his health. Yes, kids, it used to be OK to smoke on airplanes.
- Event Title: A "midnight run" is supposed to be (by fugitive retrieval standards) a milk run. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Serrano thinks of Jack as some self-righteous loser for giving up everything to maintain his moral code. It's also why Jack's gambit against him works: Serrano never expected him to be working for the FBI.
- Evil Counterpart: Marvin to Jack. Jack does bounty hunting both for money, and so he can bring in criminals his own way, and actually treats them like human beings. Marvin is a brutish, selfish man who doesn't give a damn about his bounties, even planning to hand Mardukas to the mob because he assumes Evil Pays Better, instead of bringing him into jail.
- 555: "KL5"
- Foreshadowing: On a couple of occasions:
- Mardukas reveals he planned to make copies of his files for Serrano's accounts and use them to protect himself, but the FBI closed in on him before he could do so. Pretending that he has these files forms part of Jack's plan to rescue Mardukas and deliver Serrano to the feds.
- After learning that Eddie has sent Marvin after Mardukas as well, Jack fumes that he's half-considering just letting Mardukas go in order to spite Eddie. He ends up doing just that right at the end.
- Good Is Not Nice: Jack Walsh and Alonzo Moseley.
- Guile Hero: Mardukas. Pretending to have acrophobia so he can slow down his time to Los Angeles (it turns out he is a trained pilot), and using Moseley's badge to pretend to be an FBI Agent looking for a counterfeiter so he can get money from store clerks. If he weren't so concerned about Jack's safety, he could have slipped away a lot sooner.
- Hidden Depths: Jack Walsh to Mardukas in a very effective scene when the pair is driving from Chicago to Amarillo. Mardukas realizes after getting a surprisingly honest answer to an Armor-Piercing Question that Jack isn't a Corrupt Cop but rather an honorable, unfairly disgraced Knight In Sour Armor.
- Hairpin Lockpick: Averted. Jack picks locks using a tension bar and a snapper pick, one of the very few realistic depictions of lockpicking in a Hollywood film.
- Hero Insurance: Yes, Jack helps the FBI nail Jimmy Serrano. But he also steals a car, impersonates an FBI agent, impersonates a Secret Serviceman, robs a bar, interferes with an FBI investigation, and lets a wanted fugitive go free. He ends the movie at liberty, free to open his coffee shop.
- Hope Spot: Right at the very end.Eddie: Where the hell are you?
Jack: I'm in L.A. And guess who I'm with? I'm with the Duke!
Eddie: YOU GOT HIM?! Oh — YOU GOT HIM JACK! I love you!
Jack: Yeah, you wanna say hello? Say hello. [Leans Mardukas into the receiver]
Eddie: Hello, you son of a bitch! WE GOT YOU, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH!
Jack: Yeah. Now say goodbye, you lyin' little piece of shit, because I'm letting him go. [Hangs up]
- Hypocritical Humor:
Mardukas: Why would you eat that?Jack: Why? Because it tastes good!Mardukas: But it's not good for you...Why would you do something that you know is not good for you?Jack: Cause I don't think about it.Mardukas: But that's living in denial.Jack: I'm aware of that.Mardukas: So you're aware of your behavior, yet you continue to do things that aren't good for you. That sounds sort of foolish, don't you think so, Jack?Jack: Stealing $15 million from Jimmy Serrano sounds foolish.Mardukas: I didn't think I'd get caught.Jack: Now that's living in denial.Mardukas: I'm aware of that.
- Eddie delivers a lengthy, impassioned speech about how much he resents Jack's implication that he's dishonest and untrustworthy. Leaving aside the fact that he goes on to constantly double-cross Jack throughout the movie, he's saying this less than thirty seconds after trying to shortchange Jack $300 from a promised fee.
- There's also this exchange between Jack and Mardukas:
- I Shall Taunt You: At least 50% of Mardukas's actions are a calculated ploy to throw Jack off balance by provoking, needling and annoying him at every possible opportunity. The other 50% are just him being naturally annoying.
- Impersonating an Officer: Walsh impersonates an FBI agent.
- Indy Ploy: Jack is very good at thinking on his feet, to the extent that he's able to come up with a plan to rescue Mardukas, get Serrano arrested, get Mardukas to Los Angeles before the deadline and claim his reward while sitting in a police station under arrest by the FBI and surrounded by cops and federal agents.
- Ironic Echo: Jack is delivering Mardukas into custody for a huge fee, which he hopes to use to finance a coffee shop, despite the fact that Jimmy Serrano will likely have Mardukas murdered in prison. Mardukas bitterly remarks "Hope it's a nice coffee shop." At the end, when Jack sacrifices his fee and releases Mardukas, he wistfully remarks: "Would have been a nice coffee shop."
- Justified Criminal: Mardukas. He stole from the mob and gave the money away to charity. It's the main reason why Jack lets him go in the end.
- Karma Houdini:
- Jack commits a lot of crimes over the course of the movie, including impersonating an FBI agent, stealing a car and robbing a bar, yet gets away scot free.
- Madrukas stole an awful lot of money and worked as an associate of the Mafia, as well as skipped bail. He ends the film walking away a free man, with Jack letting him go for the sake of getting even with Eddie's backstabbing (the Serrano affair having been dealt with through means other than him testifying).
- A corrupt cop-who is implied to have cost Jack his job on the force-was promoted to Captain, and got to marry Jack's ex-wife.
- Knight In Sour Armor: Jack, bitter at the world after he lost everything, but still with his own personal code of ethics.
- Laser-Guided Karma: This is a movie in which everyone ultimately gets what they deserve one way or another:
- Jack who remained true to his code of honour throughout the movie succeeds in bringing Mardukas back to Los Angeles, and then after doing the decent thing and releasing Mardukas knowing full well he would lose his lucrative fee in doing so, receives a far greater reward than he expected.
- Mardukas who's only real victim was a ruthless gangster and who used the money he stole to help the needy, gains his freedom.
- Jimmy Serrano is ultimately brought down by Jack Walsh, the honest cop he framed and had run out of Chicago ten years before.
- Alonzo Moseley an honest fed, gets to arrest the mobster he's been trying to bring down the whole movie.
- Marvin who is less ethical and intelligent than Jack gets arrested for interfering with an FBI operation.
- Eddie who has double-crossed Jack repeatedly throughout the movie by playing him and Marvin off each other, loses his bond for Mardukas and, in all likelihood, his business.
- Look Behind You: Walsh gets Marvin with this repeatedly. Until the one time it's for real.
- The Mafia: Who Mardukas stole from. They want him dead.
- Miscarriage of Justice: Walsh is a bounty hunter because he was framed as a Dirty Cop, which he wasn't.
- The Mole: Jerry is constantly tipping off the mob hit men as to Walsh's location.
- Mundane Solution: When Mardukas tells Marvin that he's deathly afraid of flying, Marvin's solution is to simply knock him out cold. Can't be afraid when you're not awake, right?
- Nice Guy: Jonathan Mardukas. He's an accountant, has a wife who he loves, a loyal dog, tries not to swear, shows respect even to those who don't return it, and can say hello in many different languages.
- No Indoor Voice: Jack is forced to resort to this at the climax, when Marvin tussels with Jack during the sting operation, causing Jack's wire to malfunction, and allowing Cerrano to sneak away with the computer disks. Jack sees Cerrano's thugs moving in for the kill, and in desperation, yells out, "Cerrano's got the disks! Cerrano's got the disks! CERRANO'S GOT THE DISKS!" Mosely moves his agents in immediately for the save.
- Nothing Personal: Marvin says this to Jack right after swooping in to take Jack's hard-won bounty at the beginning.
- Not So Different:Jonathan Mardukas: You're OK, Jack. I think . . . under different circumstances you and I probably still would have hated each other.
- Obfuscating Disability: Mardukas claims to suffer from aviophobia and acrophobia, which forces Walsh to take him off their flight to L.A. Though he doesn't really, and is actually a qualified pilot.
- Odd Couple: A persnickety accountant and a hardened, cynical bounty hunter.
- Oh, Crap!:
- When Jack realizes that Marvin is planning to give Mardukas to the mob.
- The two FBI agents who have tapped Eddie's phone, when Jack works out the bug and taunts them with a Poke in the Third Eye, have an exhausted, downplayed version of this, as they just sit and stare at each other with wordless expressions that clearly read "... Fuck."
- Mardukas, having closed a train car door on Jack with a taunting "See you in the next life!", turns around to enjoy his freedom... only to see a pissed-off Jack clambering in through the open door on the other side of the car, having grabbed onto a ladder and climbed over the roof.Jack: Well, I guess we're in the next life, John!
- One Last Job: Walsh hopes to collect the large bounty from apprehending Mardukas and open a coffee shop.
- Pity the Kidnapper: Jack is a licensed bounty hunter, not a kidnapper, but otherwise the dynamic is the same, as the Duke annoys the bejesus out of him with his constant irritating questions. Interestingly enough, the trope is defied by Marvin: the moment he has Mardukas and he tries to swindle Marvin with his annoyance act, Marvin knocks him out in one punch and carries him away.
- Poke in the Third Eye: Walsh realizes Eddie's phone is tapped and starts giving false information over it to mock the agents listening in.Jack Walsh: Where am I? I'm in Boise, Idaho; no, no, no, wait a minute: I'm in Anchorage, Alaska. No, no, wait: I'm in Casper, Wyoming; I'm in the lobby of a Howard Johnson's and I'm wearing a pink carnation.
- Police Are Useless: Let's hope the FBI isn't as incompetent as it comes off in this movie.
- Precision F-Strike: Mardukas is generally pleasant and refrains from swearing, but after his attempt to explain his actions and plead for his life results in Walsh brushing him off, he drops one.Mardukas: "I'm in your way? I'm in your way? What you mean is you want the money for turning me in because that's all you're about. You're just about the fucking money!"
- Race Against the Clock: Jack has to get Mardukas back to LA before the expiration date on the bond, or else he doesn't get the money.
- Recycled Trailer Music: Ironically, the theme is so un-Danny Elfman-like, people are shocked it's his. And every Buddy Picture and Buddy Cop Show trailer will use it, as well as Wunza Plot films too.
- The Rival: Marvin to Jack.
- Road Trip Plot: An eventful trip from NY to LA.
- Running Gag:
Marvin: Why don't you quit? It'd be cheaper for both of us.
- Jack keeps forgetting his watch is broken and checking it.
- Alonzo Moseley has a habit of taking things off the people he's interrogating / intimidating and 'forgetting' to return them. He confiscates Jack's sunglasses at one point and makes a habit of stealing Marvin's cigarettes.
- Jack having stolen Moseley's FBI ID early on, he keeps using it to (mis)identify himself and get away with stuff, and Moseley keeps running into people who think that Jack's real name is Alonzo Moseley.
- Jack constantly tricking Marvin, knocking him unconscious and stealing/borrowing his stuff.
- Jack and Moseley, and the sunglasses. "Gee, I've been looking all over for these! Thanks, Alonzo!"
- Moseley's deadpan reaction any time his underlings come to him with an update. "Is this good news or bad news?" "Is this going to upset me?"
- Jack and Marvin, usually after knocking the other person out: "See you in L.A., Jack!/Marvin!"
- With a Call-Back to Moseley's kleptomania at the end. "Yeah, watch your cigarettes with this guy, Jack."
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: When they finally get to LAX after all they've been through together, Jack gives up on his dream of a coffee shop, instead letting Mardukas go. Mardukas responds by giving Jack $300K, which he's had the whole time, for the coffee shop.Mardukas: It's not a payoff, it's a gift. You already let me go.
- Tap on the Head: Jack, Marvin and Serrano's goons seem to have a gift with knocking people unconscious with a single punch to the face.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Tony and Joey, the two Mooks who work for Serrano. Serrano himself refers to them as "Moron Number One" and "Moron Number Two".
- Title Drop: A "midnight run" is bounty hunter slang for a hassle-free, easy fugitive retrieval and return. Specifically, Eddie uses this when protesting the fee that Jack demands to retrieve Mardukas:Eddie: A hundred-thousand?! Are you outta ya mind?! It's an easy gig! It's a midnight run, for Chrissakes!
- Two Words: I Can't Count: Walsh is grows aggravated by Mardukas' nagging, finally telling him to "shut up", but using more than two words:Mardukas: Jack, you're a grown man. You have control over your own words.
Walsh: You're God damn right I do, so here come two for you; "shut the fuck up".
- Wham Line: Right at the very end:Jack: Now say goodbye, you lyin' little piece of shit, because I'm lettin' him go.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Jack gives one to his ex-wife for marrying a cop on the take. Later on, Mardukas gives Jack one when he realizes Jack is about to deliver him into the hands of the same mobster that ruined Jack's life.
- Working the Same Case: Walsh and the FBI.
- You Said You Would Let Them Go: Walsh has fallen into a raging river. Mardukas extends a helping hand but says "Promise to let me go." Walsh agrees and Mardukas pulls him out. Walsh slaps the handcuffs on Mardukas and says he'll let Mardukas go when Mardukas is back in jail.