Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Launching Less than Gently Into the Night

I meant this to be a book review, but this one might prove to be something of a quickie, as I was less than rested this weekend.

The thing about living in Los Angeles is that you can get out and about into all sorts of weirdness at all hours that can often span the entire length and width and depth of the town.  I've had quiet nights at home where a late phone call or text summons me to some hanging out in one part of town that suddenly ended in the exact opposite part of the town at 4 a.m. with several stops in between.  To be honest, I've developed something of a barometer for it that scales the summons, the starting location, as well as the participants to decide just what sort of evening it's going to be.  And while, I'm still surprised occasionally, there are many nights when I just know it's going to be a big one...so I tell my bed not to wait up for me.

This whole weekend sort of turned out to be one of those.  So it was oddly fated that during the proceeding week I should revisit the crazy evening depicted in John Landis's lesser known work Into the Night (1985).

Starring Jeff Goldblum (fresh off his stint as the cowboy New Jersey in the cult classic Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai...) and Michelle Pfeiffer, Into the Night concerns cubicle drone Ed Okin who attempts to escape his boredom, insomnia, and unfaithful spouse by taking a night drive to LAX, and gets more than he bargained for when a beautiful gem smuggler leaps into the car after being pursued by Persian mercenaries.  The film's an 80's cavalcade of Los Angeles locations and a barrage of cameos, many of which only the film connoisseur will ever pick up on (such as director David Cronenberg, Muppeteer Jim Henson, special effects make-up whiz Rick Baker, as well Landis himself to name a few).

The most interesting thing to me about revisiting movies from this time, especially comedies, is how tonally different they are from modern movies.  If you go back and revisit Landis's Trading Places (1983), it's still a great movie, and to me has aged well, but most striking is that it doesn't seem compelled to be hurling gags at you every nanosecond.  The movie is plenty funny, but isn't bending over backwards to convince you of that fact.  And despite everything coming out of the Hollywood studios today being labelled high concept, there have been few that relate a mature and/or well conceived narrative that also happens to have laughs.  I can't even conceive of something as neon noir yet funny as Walter Hill's 48 Hours getting made exactly as it was today.

Having said that, I must confess that Into the Night sags a little more than those above in the comedy department.  Don't get me wrong, it's an enjoyable ride, but even with that 80's tone, the lack of consistent laughs or heavy suspense leaves it in a nebulous zone between comedy and thriller.  Goldblum and Pfeiffer both do fine jobs in their roles, but as they say (do they, really?) the sparks never exactly fly. At nearly two hours, you begin to feel it.  From my personal perspective, I feel the drag began when the sun comes up in the movie. In my kookier nights out, when the sun came up, that was usually the sign that the affair had gone on too long, and this one keeps going after that.

In any event, it certainly doesn't diminish my love for Landis's work as many of them occupy my movie shelf, and it was a great revisit to an interesting time period when you could have a level of maturity while still being silly.

And for no other reason than I want to, here's a picture of the Hong Kong Cavaliers. That's Goldblum on the right with the hat.

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