Sunday, August 16, 2009

John Landis's Into the Night (1985)

I must have first seen John Landis's Into the Night (1985) around twenty or so years ago, and undoubtedly, it was a late-nite cable viewing. I certainly was a night owl and loved spending my evenings in front of the tube watching the cable movie channels, which the old man was shelling out the bucks for. I grew up in a quiet coastal community, and when the sun went down about all there was to hear was the sound of the waves hitting the shore or the occasional car passing by. I had a serious attraction to city life, and when I was eighteen, I took out for the city and haven't really looked back. My night owl habits and fascination for city life would make films like Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985) (New York) and Landis's Into the Night (Los Angeles) essential films. Being an adolescent, getting to see Michelle Pfeiffer butt naked was added attraction and also, undoubtedly, the strongest memory that I had of the film. Anyway, Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) cannot sleep, his beautiful wife is cheating on him, and his job, as an aerospace engineer, is a dead end. His commuter and work buddy, Herb (Dan Aykroyd), tells him one morning--since you're not sleeping, just drive to the airport, hop on a plane to Vegas, have a good time, and pop back in the morning. Although Ed's at the early stages of sleep-deprived psychosis, he knows that this idea is ridiculous. After a poor performance at a work meeting, he goes home early to catch a nap only to hear the sounds of his wife in sexual bliss, coming from their bedroom. That evening, unable to sleep again, Ed hops in his car and heads for the airport. While parked in the airport garage, a beautiful and well-dressed blonde, jumps into his vehicle and asks Ed to drive away quickly. Before Ed can even react, a well-dressed man with a large pistol hops onto his car's hood, and without thinking, Ed drives off with the young woman.What follows in Into the Night is a series of episodes, sometimes funny, sometimes kind of disturbing, and often strange, involving the reluctant Ed and beautiful and charismatic Diana, like "Princess Diana," played by Michelle Pfeiffer. International intrigue, Hollywood insiders, and jewel thievery are the main ingredients to this mix, while Landis litters his film with a litany of cameos from Hollywood players, mainly directors. Landis, himself, plays one of the four thugs out to get Ed and Diana. While his three cohorts will often yell at each other in a language other than English, Landis's character never says a word. In fact, the four are more about action, and one of the film's running jokes is their quick propensity to destroy just about anything in their path. In one of the film's most bizarre scenes, Landis and crew visit Diana's friend and budding actress, Christie (Kathryn Harrold), and her Hollywood heavyweight boyfriend, Bud Herman (Paul Mazursky). The crew, in their usual fashion, begin tearing up the place, while holding Christie and Bud at gunpoint. Christie escapes out of house and onto the beach. In slapstick fashion, Landis's character smacks himself in the face with the door only then to fire about six bullets in the doorknob and then reopen the door. In a static wide shot, the four chase down Christie and hold her down and drown her in the ocean. The killing is cold and is shot by Landis in the same fashion.
The best scenes of Into the Night involve only Goldblum and Pfeiffer during downtime from one of the action sequences. In fact the best scene occurs with the two sitting in a diner, having ice cream and getting to know each other. Tall and skinny Jeff Goldblum is quite charming with his endearing and nerdish manner. When he opens up to Pfeiffer, it's one of the only real glimpses into his character. It is, however, fun to watch his character almost sleepwalk through the film: the absurdity of the film's events don't really faze him as he is already slipping over the edge. As for Michelle Pfeiffer, her performance gives no doubt as to her subsequent rise as a true Hollywood superstar. Her previous films, two genuine cult classics, Patricia Birch's Grease 2 (1982) and Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983), showed an actress with an incredible amount of range emotionally and dramatically, from smart and sassy to cold and icy, always sexy and radiant. Pfeiffer would finish the eighties in Hollywood hits such as George Miller's Witches of Eastwick (1987), Robert Towne's Tequila Sunrise (1988), Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liasons (1988), and culminating in her best performance of the eighties in Steve Kloves's Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). By the time the nineties dawned, Pfeiffer was one of the elite in Hollywood. She is completely magnetic in Into the Night and while I don't believe this film is a cult classic in the same league as her two previous films, her performance makes the film essential viewing for Pfeiffer fans and of course, for those fans looking for a fix of the unsual.
I quite admire John Landis's decision to direct Into the Night. A lover of horror cinema whose work is often synonymous with comedy, Landis has directed some bona fide classics (Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), and An American Werewolf in London (1981)). The single attribute of Landis which I most admire, regardless if I like one of his films, is his total persistence on diversity in his filmography, and of all the things that can be said of his work, predictable is not one of the words. Unfortunately, Into the Night looks like a film which was a lot of fun to make: I can only speculate the nights this crew had together. However, as a lasting film, Into the Night falls short: spots of magic, here and there, but overall, an admirable attempt at something offbeat which doesn't quite gel. However, Pfeiffer's performance makes Into the Night worth a peek, and I probably will revisit it again, if only for nostalgia's sake.


Mr.LargePackage said...

When I saw this film the first time, the question that kept echoing through my mind was "what is David Bowie doing in this movie?". It was little things like that that made this film enjoyable if not truly great. And that is large and in charge.

Jeff Allard said...

I love Into the Night but I haven't seen it since the days when it was in heavy rotation on HBO. I'm curious as to if it would still play as well to me today. Still, based on my memories of it, this is my favorite Landis film.

Hans A. said...

Hey Jeff, thnx for reading and commenting. I just checked out your blog and it's quite impressive. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

Mr. LP, you're always beautiful, baby.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks Hans - I appreciate the kind words. Your blog is a new discovery for me, too. Keep up the great work!