Thursday, June 22, 2006

Movie: Into the Night (1985)

This neglected comic thriller, directed by John Landis from a script by Ron Koslow, is the working definition of offbeat. It doesn’t have a plot so much as a vibe. Nice guy engineer Jeff Goldblum drives the streets of Los Angeles to cope with his insomnia. He soon finds himself caught up in a bizarre noir plot involving smuggled emeralds, a femme fatale (Michelle Pfeiffer, never lovelier), and a quartet of lunatic Iranian killers, one of them played by Landis.

Like the story matters. The film is really about nocturnal rhythms, that sense that the wee hours of the morning are when the world is at its most dangerous and you’re at your most alive. Landis captures that feeling in his best directing effort. Night makes an interesting double-bill with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (out on video now now – try it, you’ll like it). Both movies depict L.A. as a city of traffic and illusion – and both have interesting things to say about the women who migrate there to become stars only to fall short.

Night has been playing on cable, but I rented the DVD hoping that a certain extra would be included – and it was. B.B. King provides much of the film’s music, and the video for his song ‘Lucille’ features the cast as his band. Goldblum on piano, Pfeiffer and cameo player Dan Aykroyd in the horn section along with Steve Martin, and Landis vet Eddie Murphy on drums. It’s every bit as odd I remembered.

This kind of thing happened a lot in the mid-‘80s, when music videos were still new enough to be seen as prime marketing opportunities. It may have reached a nadir in the Bob Seger video “American Storm,” which featured James Woods, Scott Glenn, Randy Quaid and Lesley Ann Warren acting up an American storm in a movie that didn’t exist. They simply shot the scenes for the video. Why not? At the time, that’s what all videos looked like.

I can’t find that or the ‘Lucille’ clip online, but here are two premiere example of the form: Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” video, packed with pointless celebrity appearances (Melissa Gilbert? Irene Cara?) and Billy Ocean’s theme from The Jewel of the Nile, with Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito as his back-up singers. Enjoy!