It’s always dangerous going back to a movie, a book, or a whatever you really loved as a kid. Most times, I find my memory of something is a lot better than that something actually was. It’s like taking a sledge-hammer to a palace made of stained glass windows.
That was my fear with Midnight Madness, a movie I saw and idolized during the high summer of my salad days. I remembered it being called “The All-Nighter”, but after I pinned down the name of the star, (who was also very good in An American Werewolf in London), I pinned down the movie.
And it’s every bit as good as I remembered it. I mean, sure, it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s not really supposed to be. I don’t understand why film critics sometimes attack movies for not being like Jean Luc Goddard or Jim Jarmusch or whatever. Midnight Madness is a silly, raunchy college comedy from the early 80s. Like Porky’s, or Revenge of the Nerds. If you can just accept that, it’s a lot of fun.
The plot is pretty simple – Leon, a reclusive genius with a magnificent Jewfro and two hot babes for assistants – devises a grand scavenger hunt in LA for five competing teams of college students. There’s the vaguely homosexual jocks, the vaguely lesbian sorority sisters, the nerds, the rich kids, and the heroes. They all race around LA in their Scooby-Doo-like jeeps and vans, trying to solve Leon’s fiendish puzzles and beat the others to the finish line.
There are a few cringe-inducing moments. Some of the jokes made at the expense of overweight people seemed a little… uncool. I mean, I’m all for non-PC humor, but the fat-jokes struck me as mean spirited and nasty, for some reason. Stephen Furst, who plays the “villain” (and was also great in Animal House), isn’t allowed a single moment of dignity.
But oh well. Freud said all humor is predicated on cruelty, and who am I to argue with a man who fabricated all of his research? Again, taking Midnight Madness too seriously will get you nowhere, fast.
And there are moments where Midnight Madness transcends itself, becomes something more than a low-budget college comedy. There’s a beautiful musical interlude in a piano museum, for instance, and it’s truly wonderful how Leon takes all of his grumpy neighbors – people of all ages and races – and turns them into a happy, throbbing community party.
Not to mention that a few parts of Midnight Madness are truly laugh-out-loud funny (“FAGA-BEFE?”). It’s one of those rare movies that gets more deliriously wonderful as it progresses, as if the director, like the characters in the movie, sort of figures out how to “play the game” as the story leaps and stumbles its way all over Los Angeles.
Midnight Madness is also notable for being Michael J. Fox’s first film role. He really does light up the screen every time he comes on (he’s like 12). And Paul Reubens does a fantastic little cameo as a demented video game arcade (remember those?) attendant in a cowboy outfit. I s*** thee not.
So. If you like humor at the expense of others, if you like watching cops brutally arrest little old ladies, if you like good, unclean American fun, check out Midnight Madness.