Much has been written about Walt Disney Pictures’ efforts to stretch beyond family-friendly fare during the late ’70s and early ’80s, issuing such projects as The Black Hole (1979) and Dragonslayer (1981). Yet perhaps more than grim fantasy films, the frenetic ensemble comedy Midnight Madness epitomizes this awkward transitional period. Borrowing tropes from the raunchy campus comedy Animal House (1978), Disney’s Midnight Madness includes a sight gag about a frat boy diving into a vat of beer, a scene in which characters must decipher a puzzle clue about melons by staring at a woman’s gigantic breasts, and another scene in which characters illicitly aim a telescope at a sexy girl’s window. Eventually, trying to satisfy coarsening audience tastes while preserving the valuable Disney brand led the company to introduce a second distribution arm, Touchstone Pictures. Midnight Madness represents a noteworthy step along that path.
As for the movie itself, it’s a silly action/comedy hybrid in the mode of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), except for the collegiate set. A game designer challenges five teams to race through Los Angeles from midnight to dawn, tracking cryptic clues to see which team can arrive at the final destination first. Accidents, betrayals, cheating, greed, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings ensue.As for the major characters, protagonist Adam (David Naughton) is a likeable freshman counselor afraid to make the first move with Laura (Debra Clinger) and oblivious to the insecurities of his younger brother, Scott (Michael J. Fox).
It’s all quite pointless, so the narrative is merely a flimsy excuse for fast-moving vignettes of one-dimensional characters engaging in colorful antics. For instance, Harold (Stephen Furst) is a fat rich kid who constantly stuffs his face and uses a super-computer instead of his mind to solve clues. Similarly, Eddie Deezen plays yet another socially maladjusted weirdo. And while the picture has glimmers of wit, seeing as how game designer Leon (Alan Solomon) creates clever jumbles that teams (and viewers) must decipher, Midnight Madness is a bit of a slog, especially since it runs a full two hours. Still, the picture is executed well enough, and the actors give enthusiastic performances. What’s more, the filmmakers throw in a few complications to keep things from moving in a straight line.
Midnight Madness: FUNKY