Ed Okin (Jeff Goldlbum) hates his job, his marriage is stagnant and he can’t sleep. Of course, the requisite irony is that while he can’t literally get to sleep, he can’t figuratively wake up, spiritually unable to arouse himself from the soul-crushing slumber into which he has apparently unintentionally fallen, and so if he catches a few z’s then perhaps he can rise and shine. The other irony, however, is a movie that yearns to spur its main character to life is oddly, relentlessly, agonizingly lifeless, assuming the zombie-ish air of its main character. Given that “Into the Night” stretches out across two surreal Los Angeles nights and includes all manner of outlandish encounters, it is tempting to compare John Landis’s film to the operatically madcap “After Hours.” But “Into the Night” is not operatic; it is opera as filtered through a white noise machine.
Counseled by a co-worker, played by Dan Aykroyd, foreshadowing a spate of cameos we will address momentarily, to go to Las Vegas to blow off some steam, Ed finds himself driving to LAX in the dead of the night where, as the fates dictate, a jewel smuggler named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) winds up in his car. She is being pursued by four Iranians who want the six necessarily precious emeralds she has in her possession. It’s obvious to say that hijinks ensue, of course, but the hijinks here are as uncreative as they are strangely real, as throats are graphically slashed and walls are inundated with blood when brains are blown out for no other reason, it seems, than shock value.
Rather than train his focus on rendering the various escapades themselves as humorous, Landis is oddly committed to cameos. While I am unwilling to do the research to know for sure, it is possible that “Into the Night” has the most cameos in movie history. There are so many you quickly become inured to them. I have no idea what they are meant to convey other than, hey, John Landis got to hang out with some friends on the set. Which is completely cool, of course, because I have long championed “Ocean’s Twelve” as an example of a bunch of stars getting together on a movie set to have a good time, except that those stars genuinely look like they are having a good time. No one in “Into the Night” looks as if they are having a particularly good time. Jim Henson shows up in “Into the Night” to field a phone call and Amy Heckerling serves ice cream at a diner and David Cronenberg is Ed’s boss and so what? Are we supposed to be awed because they are Jim Henson and Amy Heckerling and David Cronenberg? What else? Anything? Nothing? Nothing.
Jeff Goldblum, of course, is best when he is allowed to operate amidst so much craziness and react to it, whether dinosaurs have run amok or aliens have invaded earth. Theoretically that’s what should be happening in “Into the Night” except that Goldblum has nothing much to react to. All the craziness around him is tamped down and un-realized. Diana’s emeralds, it turns out, come from a Persian king’s scepter but never has such a plot point been rendered so run of the mill. It’s a bad sign when the movie’s many transitional scenes, often taking place in ever changing vehicles, as Goldblum and Pfeiffer go from place to place are filled with more oomph than the sequences actually meant as the heart of the thing. The soundtrack, conjured up by Ira Newborn, unexpectedly brilliantly melds the sort of 80s smoky neon synth with the B.B. King’s Lucille, and so scenes that are basically filler become unexpectedly compelling.
The only element of “Into the Night” that can match the soundtrack is David Bowie, though, sadly, he merely turns up for two scenes as a British hitman. His devious grin alone packs more punch than all of the other cameos combined, and the little moment where he gleefully puts a gun in Ed’s mouth and then lifts the gun, prompting Ed to raise his head in unison, is just a little bit of actorly business, yes, but the kind with a purpose, giving Goldblum something to play to, that is lacking pretty much everywhere else. Bowie adds so much spice that I kept expecting his character to turn up at the refresh-the-clock-on-my-phone conclusion, hoping he would drop in from an air duct, or rise through a trap door in the floor. It’s possible that his character had been killed off in an earlier scene but I realized, frankly, I couldn’t remember. It’s also possible the movie just glossed over that plot point, and it’s also possible my eyes were just glazed over and I missed it.
“Into the Night” is so utterly hapless, and so strangely not beholden to its originating plot point of Ed needing to spiritually wake up, that I at some point I also became convinced this whole slapdash cinematic nonentity would end with Ed waking up in bed, realizing it was All Just A Dream. No such luck. If anything, Ed is probably still asleep, even now, thirty-one years later, his alarm clock failing to go off, still dreaming in 80s neon, still wishing he could be having a more lively dream.