Why am I beginning a new series in this blog, about the films of David Bowie, with this particular movie? It is far from Bowie’s best movie, and his role is pretty small— hardly more than a cameo. The reason is simply it is the most recent movie I’ve watched, other than documentaries, in which Bowie appeared at all.
I originally saw this movie many years ago and recently confused it for the Martin Scorsese movie, After Hours. Into the Night is a moderately amusing John Landis movie, seemingly trying to replicate the everyone-in-the-world-chasing-our-two-heores aspect of The Blues Brothers. And like, The Blues Brothers, Into the Night features some prominent musicians, such as Bowie and Carl Perkins, in small roles. Unlike The Blues Brothers, the musicians in this movie don’t sing. The Blues Brothers is a much better movie.
So is After Hours. After Hours is a near-great movie, but this post is not about After Hours except in that it does have certain superficial similarities to Into the Night. Both are about misadventures of a protagonist with a boring day job and uninspiring life who stumbles into a series of mishaps on one fateful night. Both are comedies and both were released in 1985. That’s where the similarities pretty much end, and sadly, Bowie isn’t in After Hours.
In Into the Night, Bowie plays a hit man who is one of the many antagonists out to get the stars, Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. He and Carl Perkins, who plays a bodyguard for another character, end up killing each other. It must have been a bizarre idea to cast David Bowie and Carl Perkins in a movie as a couple of tough guys who end up killing each other without making any musical contribution, even to the soundtrack. I think that’s a micro version of the overall movie’s shortcomings— Landis had some great resources to play with, but he failed to make the most of them.
Landis himself has a small role, as one of a trio of bumbling Iranian agents, also out to get Goldblum and Pfeiffer. This gag did not age well and now comes off as racist.
Also, well, I keep going back to After Hours. The lead character in After Hours, played by Griffin Dunne can’t help but make his own situation worse and worse. He decides to be jerky at all thew wrong times, and we see the karma train heading right down the tracks for him. We feel for the guy but at the same time don’t like him. The movie manages to be tense and funny at the same time, as an ominous sense of doom builds and the walls close in on this guy until he is literally encased in plaster. This makes for a more satisfying ride than Into the Night, in which Goldblum is too sympathetic, too heroic and too…safe. Even in violent situations, we don’t feel like he or Pfeiffer are in any real danger. A bumbling John Landis as an Iranian agent or David Bowie playing a hit man for laughs just don’t telegraph that something truly bad is about to happen. Bad things do happen to Dunne in After Hours, and part of the repeated tension-release sequences of the movie that work for it is knowing that the looming threat is very real.
All that said, Into the Night is not a terrible movie. It moves along and, like I said, is amusing. The movie’s great gimmick is the army of cameos — did you notice Jim Henson? What about David Cronenberg? So that’s something. And Bowie’s appearance certainly doesn’t detract from the movie. I kind of would have liked if he had a bigger part. But it is what it is.
As mentioned above, this is the first in what I intend to be a series about Bowie’s movies. I don’t plan to go in any particular order, but hey, if we’re doing movies, let’s have a rating system, right? A four star system seems right? I was going to do blackstars, but oddly I can’t easily plug a black star into the text. So I’m going to use the little Bowie emojis. And ion this case, I’m going to give Into the Night two out of four:
PS: Bowie is in the trailer!