Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 04 December 2008
Source Universal Studios DVD
There are moments when John Landis’ Into the Night feels like the forgotten gem that you want it to be. It’s hard not to be just a little bit fond of a movie with segments such as the one where its star, Jeff Goldblum, endures several charming bits of comic misdirection on the set of a TV series, failing to distinguish between a prop and the real thing. And any film that can effectively use a television broadcast of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as a means of building a sense of foreboding earns a few points from me. (Not to mention the fact that Landis employs the inimitable David Bowie as a grinning, mustachioed British hitman.) So it’s a pity that Into the Night ultimately wears out the goodwill that it rightfully earns with a potent premise, an appealing cast, and some quality gags.
Initially, Into the Night plays something like a West Coast answer to Scorsese’s After Hours (released the same year), swapping out the arty oddity of SoHo for the glitz (and grit) of late night Hollywood. Like After Hours, Into the Night finds a beleaguered everyman – in this case Goldblum’s Ed Okin, a depressive insomniac bored by his job and disillusioned with his marriage – who finds himself in the midst of a mad after-dark adventure after meeting an unusual woman—in this case the criminally-inclined Diana, played by Michelle Pfieffer. But where Scorsese’s New York flick is a most antsy and nightmarish comedy, Into the Night veers toward the escapist conventions of a caper flick or romantic fantasy. I wouldn’t fault it simply for that; films set in Hollywood often enjoy buying into the dream factory’s own nonsense, and for that matter so do I. But Into the Night never manages to strike the right balance between grim thriller and redemptive love story.
Part of what makes Landis’ An American Werewolf in London a classic is its genre-hopping inclinations, the way that it manages to be a very funny comedy without compromising itself as a tragic, character-driven horror story. (It’s as steeped in death, guilt, and viscera as any serious monster movie you’ve ever seen.) By contrast, Into the Night falters by losing track of its characters, sacrificing their development in favor of a draggy action plot involving stolen emeralds and some stock Iranian henchmen in pursuit of Pfieffer (one of those henchmen is played by Landis himself—that’s him restraining Pfieffer in her first scene). Without a little more reflection from Pfieffer’s Diana, who admits “I’m one of the bad guys,” and a bit more time spent on her relationship with Goldblum’s hapless Ed, it’s hard to become fully invested in the romance that ought to be burgeoning here. (Another shame: the seedy atmosphere and sense of urgency dissipate when morning breaks some time before the credits roll.)
The pervasive amount of violence in the film is unsettling, perhaps because it feels so gratuitous. (You have to feel for Kathryn Harrold as Christie, an actress who tartly observes that her beauty-pageant-winner-cum-innocent-bystander TV character has “three more lines… ‘Don’t! Please don’t… ‘” Christie eventually becomes the victim of some of Into the Night’s most horrifying and haunting brutality, but to what purpose?) During one of the film’s climactic scenes, screenwriter Ron Koslow has Goldblum asking, “What’s wrong with my life? Why is my wife sleeping with someone else? Why can’t I sleep?” The only reply that he receives is another blast of gunfire. It’s an emblematic moment for a film that offers more questions – and bloodshed – than answers.