32 years ago in 1985 during its initial theatrical run, audiences and critics alike seemed to be under the wrongheaded notion that Into the Night marked the beginning of the end for its director John Landis. Truth be told, that would happen 9 years later with the lousy Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994. As for Into the Night; this one (along with Innocent Blood 7 years later in 1992) is actually one of Landis few director-for-hire assignments (post-The Twilight Zone tragedy) in which he is able to find a personal connection with the material while having fun with it as well.
The plot is straightforward yet complicated at the same time. A Los Angeles yuppie Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) leads a drab life with a boring job, has an unfaithful wife and is prone to insomnia. Based on advice given to him by his best friend at work (Dan Aykroyd), Ed drives to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to pick up an attractive woman so he can take her for a ride. Why an airport? I do not know or care as long as it entertains, which it does.
While Ed is waiting in the downstairs garage parking lot, a lovely girl named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) is being chased by Iranian gangsters and while running, she jumps on top of Ed’s car and frantically asks him for a ride. After saving her life and driving her around, Diana reveals that she is a smuggler (or as she says “one of the bad guys”), who stole prestigious diamonds that belonged to the Shah of Iran and this is why she is being endlessly pursued by this criminal Iranian enterprise and a few others. One memorable example of the latter is a creepy hitman played fantastically here by iconic British singer David Bowie.
If I can single out at least one notable aspect of Into the Night, it would undoubtedly be the large number of cameo appearances made here by various directors within and out of the Hollywood industry (American or otherwise) that pop up throughout the film. According to several different sources regarding Landis idea to overstuff it with as many cameos as possible, this arguably may have been an attempt by him to prove that he still had tons of both high-and-low profile support in the wake of the controversy surrounding his involvement in the accidental deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children during the 1982 filming of his segment for Twilight Zone: The Movie released the following year. Into the Night was the first of his theatrical releases to be shot while being ordered to stand trial (along with four others) for involuntary manslaughter in a court case that eventually ended in a not guilty verdict for all of them in the May of 1987.
Regardless of quality, I have always enjoyed director John Landis penchant for populating his later films with cameo appearances made by numerous directors or other industry people even when it can’t save his absolute worst movies (Beverly Hills Cop III, The Stupids and Blues Brothers 2000). Nevertheless, with Into the Night, Landis may have (intentionally or not) elevated this trait into something expressive. Though born in Chicago, Illinois, Landis actually spent most of his childhood and personal/professional career living in L.A. (California). I read somewhere that because he had the advantage of living there, he got to meet a lot of big name filmmakers as well. Taking into account how this coincides perfectly with the huge number of director cameos on display here and the location shooting, the result (openly and subtly) works as a visual homage to the city of Los Angeles (and some other parts of California) and a genre hybrid that surprisingly offers more than meets the eye.
As a genre piece, Into the Night partly comes off as a darkly comedic romantic crime thriller that pays tribute to the various films of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. While it is true that director John Landis indulges here in the kind of dark humor and tension that characterized “The Master of Suspense”, the results are purely his own and unlike his other exercises in self-proclaimed cinematic homage (Spies Like Us and Oscar), he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself here. After damaging tons of cars in Chicago throughout The Blues Brothers and in Piccadilly Circus during the climax of An American Werewolf in London, Landis decides to make a chase movie with a debatably ample body count. Speaking of which, Landis actually casts himself here as one of the Iranian henchmen and (spoiler alert), gets murdered later on (i.e. shot repeatedly). One wonders If Landis came up with the idea to cast himself in that role as penance for his involvement in The Twilight Zone accident or as a way of summing up how some members of the press now viewed him (implicitly or otherwise) as a “murderer” in the wake of the aforementioned tragedy.
Even If the large number of director cameos had only existed to show off, Into the Night would still be a highly entertaining entry within John Landis filmography as a director. Unexpectedly, Landis is able to use this to his advantage this time around. Working from a screenplay by Ron Kuslow, Landis directly (or indirectly) manages to touch upon themes (superficially though interestingly) relating to Hollywood, the crack epidemic, American/European relations and xenophobia within a 1980’s setting. One example is a scene that captures a typical day of Hollywood filmmaking where a director (Daniel Petrie) is filming a hostage scene for his film and the actor (Colin Higgins) wonders If he could do a few more takes. In fact, the hotel scene where Ed finds an empty room and the TV set is showing Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein could be Landis clever way of telling viewers that the whole film should not be taken too seriously. Another one is when a wealthy drug dealer (Paul Mazursky) is being questioned by authorities. Crack cocaine use was reportedly high in popularity during the Reagan era. As far as the view Europeans have of Americans can best be summed up in a scene involving a French criminal (Roger Vadim) and a Federal agent I believe. After being outsmarted by one of the two main characters, the latter asks the former “If he is enjoying the United States so far” (I believe that is what he says) and the look on the Frenchman’s face looks like a mixture of confusion and annoyance. On the surface, the film’s portrayal of Iranians as murderous yet somewhat buffoonish criminals is initially problematic, but considering that the leader of the henchmen is portrayed by a Greek actress (Irene Papas) and the mute gunman is played by Landis himself (a Caucasian-American), it is possible to see it as a subtle jab at Hollywood’s (at the time) constant demonization of foreigners, which has now become rare (If not obsolete) when watching Hollywood films from the 21st century. Even a car commercial that Ed (Goldblum) watches (sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”) can be viewed as either a riff on the blatant consumerism that dominated the 1980’s as a whole or as the answer to remedy his boredom. In this case, he made his yuppie lifestyle less boring by going out with somebody, who gets him involved with more danger and intrigue than he had bargained for.
Similar to the level of enthusiasm he displayed when filming on location in Chicago with The Blues Brothers, director John Landis expresses adoration in capturing as much of Los Angeles on film as he possibly can with Into the Night. Starting with the film’s very first scene, Landis bedazzles us with the beautiful atmosphere of Los Angeles, which coincides perfectly here with blues singing legend B.B. King’s equally atmospheric title song (composed by Ira Newborn) that plays in certain spots throughout the film.
Last, but not least, Into the Night’s biggest strength comes primarily from our film’s two lead stars, which in this case would be Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. As Ed Okin, Goldblum believably conveys all of the emotions required to play a bored out of his mind insomniac starved for adventure. Once he gets a taste of that, his character gets more interesting. He can do some physical comedy (he trips and falls in one scene for comedic effect) and can be humorous in his interactions with other characters. Even in the climactic hostage situation, he outwits a baddie with shockingly unexpected results. In the role of Diana, the femme fatale with a heart and soul, Pfeiffer turns what could have been a stereotypical character into one that comes off as a (refreshingly) real person. Beautiful on the outside and kind hearted on the inside, Pfeiffer’s Diana is the kind of woman you not only want to give a hug and a kiss to, but also one to root for at the same time. Aside from her criminal actions, we learn from her Elvis impersonator brother (a hilarious Bruce McGill) that she can’t keep a steady job, but she does seem to genuinely care about her flaws. Diana’s exchange with a dying man (Richard Farnsworth) that she knows is especially touching. When Ed tells Diana at a restaurant that his wife cheated on him, she (subtly yet sincerely) expresses sympathy for him. Diana is even polite enough to offer Ed cash for driving her all over the place, but he politely declines.
Released close to six months prior to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and a year before Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, Into the Night was the first and by far, the glossiest of three films centering around the misadventures of a yuppie with darkly comedic results. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore this one every bit as the other two.
Out of all the films John Landis had directed in his career during and after the Twilight Zone scandal, I single out Into the Night and Innocent Blood as the only two that come off as immensely satisfying. For me, Innocent Blood (like The Kentucky Fried Movie and National Lampoon’s Animal House) can be described as very good, while Into the Night (like The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London) can best be summed up as great.
* * * * (Out of * * * *)