Artisan // 1988 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 20th, 2003
There's no turning back tonight.
Boats and guns, turquoise shirts and white pants, buried treasure and backstabbing -- what promises to be a twisted suspense thriller of murder, lust, and greed only ends up slightly bent, a little boring, and more than a little geriatric.
First of all, when a film centers on a man inheriting a sloop and charter business from his dead father, you know there is going to be a contextual problem. Most people do not know what a sloop is, let alone how one goes about inheriting one.
(It's a boat. At least, so I gathered.)
In all fairness, more happens than just property acquisition: Jeff Schubb, the young, handsome inheritor, gets his boat chartered by his wife's employer, Morley Barton. The two couples take a cruise to the Bahamas, and all is well, until Morely suggests a departure from the initial destination. Next stop, Cuba, as the four undertake a recovery of a stashed stolen fortune that Morley himself hid, as a Naval officer, immediately prior to the start of Castro's regime. Naturally, he would like this treasure back, and offers Jeff half to help retrieve said treasure. Also naturally, there may be more to Jeff's father's "suicide" than meets the eye. Then, even more naturally, people start getting betrayed, suspicions pile up, fists start flying, and all sorts of naughty naked things go on -- but not necessarily in that order.
Something very similar to a bad episode of Miami Vice is what we're looking at here. The acting goes from occasionally charming (John Laughin) to a very hammy Helen Keller impersonation (Faye Dunaway) to the be-all and end-all of terrible acting (Daniel J. Travanti, who at certain points may actually be reading a different script).
The film is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio (full screen), which is not the original aspect ratio that the film was shot in. Normally, this is an irritation to those who wish the true nature of a film to be accurately expressed and reproduced, and typically, you would hear many a complaint; but in this specific case, cutting off parts of the frame actually improves the viewing quality of Midnight Crossing -- there is less film on the screen to suck at any given time.
The quality of the film transfer is very poor. White scrapes and black dirt mar the film throughout the entire transfer, with occasional reprieve during outdoor daylight shots. Colors are cool and washed out, with pale blues and beige and grays -- an effective look for the film as a whole, but more than a little derivative of the cool, steely color schemes of Michael Mann's early work, such as Manhunter and Miami Vice.
The sound on the disc is probably its best feature -- just barely. The Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation is average and respectable -- the bass rumbles ominously and appropriately, ambient noises are mixed at a very loud level, and the dialogue is mostly clear and presented sharply. There are exceptions, for certain; the dialogue distorts at odd times when characters yell, but there are few scenes where the music actually drowns out elements of conversation on-screen. Normally, these are signs of a poor mix, a negative attribute for a DVD presentation, but in all honesty, most of the dialogue is laughable anyway and frankly, the music is the best part of the film.
The bouncing bass lines, Caribbean drum tracks, and funky synthesizers and sultry saxophone solos are incredibly enjoyable in a speedboat-and-pastel-clothes sort of way, and put us in the right frame of mind to appreciate this movie as something paying great homage and respect to the subculture that is Michael Mann's early work.
Sadly, it is everything else that sobers you and reminds you that you are watching something that isn't nearly as good.
A pathetically slim offering of extras graces this disc, and by slim, I mean nothing. Scene index and closed captioning (not even actual subtitles) seal the deal on what is a painfully inept presentation of a strange and awkward film.
There are some great William Shatner-esque fight scenes (two combatants lock arms, circle around one another, and the camera radically changes angles every time somebody gets hit), which actually make for entertaining amusement -- though probably not in the dramatic way the director intended. And of course, Faye Dunaway humming the theme song to Jaws as her friends swim in the ocean is just too odd not to mention.
What more can be said? It gets pretty bad, this film. There are moments of complete levity where you can see yourself floating above your own body, pass through the walls of your house, find your TV Guide and flip through it on an astral plane, trying to see when re-runs of Miami Vice come on.
Well, okay, okay. Grudgingly, the movie isn't that bad (heck only knows there are many worse out there). Admittedly, it is an inspired movie, with fairly skillful direction and interesting ideas -- just inspired from much better ideas, executed much more skillfully, years ago. In the end, the full screen transfer is ugly, the DVD presentation as a whole is very poor, and the film is just far too lackluster to make a lasting impression.
The court hereby orders the distribution of both Manhunter and Miami Vice to those interested in this film, and enforces a minimum of 25 hours of community service reviewing and appreciating these works.
Artisan shall pay these distribution costs herein as penalty for such a poor transfer and presentation of Midnight Runner.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R