Midnight Madness

1980 Buena Vista (IMDB entry)

Reviewed by Nathan Strum

The Plot

Five California college students, each from a different social group, are summoned by mysterious letters to an apartment in Hollywood. Once there, they discover another student -- Leon (Alan Solomon) - has challenged them to participate in the ultimate game: "The Great All-Nighter".

Each person must assemble a team, and search throughout Los Angeles -- deciphering clues that will eventually lead them to the finish line, and a trophy proclaiming that their group is the best.

The Yellow Team - led by good-guy Adam (David Naughton), are out to win fair and square. But when they pick up Adam's little brother Scott (Michael J. Fox), can they manage to keep him out of trouble long enough to win?

They also have to deal with the captain of the Blue Team - Harold (Stephen Furst). This spoiled-rich slob and his team are out to win, and they'll do that any way they can. Meanwhile, the Red Team's sorority sisters are out for revenge against the jocks of the Green Team, for crashing one of their parties. The nerds on the White Team and the jocks are after each other, because, well -- they're nerds and jocks. It's sort of like cats and dogs.

As the five teams wreak havoc around Los Angeles, Leon tries to keep things under control from Game Control in his apartment. But the whole game is placed in jeopardy as his landlady discovers what's going on, and tries to have him evicted.

Who will get to the finish line first? Will Adam reconcile with his little brother, get the girl, and win the trophy? Will the nerds find love with the sorority sisters? Will the jocks drink a lot of beer? And what does any of this have to do with video games?


Well, Midnight Madness has very little to do with video games, as it turns out. But someone suggested it as a possible movie to review, and since I'd been meaning to watch it for over 20 years anyway, I thought this was as good a choice as any. However, there is a pivotal plot point that takes place in an arcade, so at least there are some video games in it. (In fact, more time is actually spent in an arcade in this movie than in Tron, WarGames, Cloak & Dagger and The Last Starfighter combined.)

"Wow! This totally rules over my Channel F!"

The movie itself is the very definition of innocuous. There's practically nothing in here that will offend anyone (it was one of Disney's first PG productions, although it would almost certainly get a G now). It's Disney's answer to Animal House - a cleaned-up version of a college romp, suitable for all audiences.

This film feels very much like a late 70's TV movie or series pilot. From the cinematography to the acting, from the music to the directing, there's a familiarity to it that's instantly recognizable. You may have already seen it on cable years ago, and forgot about it. I'm not entirely certain I haven't seen it somewhere before, too.

Midnight Madness was one of a number of "team competition" comedies, most of which seemed to feature more of the stereotypical character types featured in this film. Even as dated as this film is today, there's still a certain mindless appeal to it. While not a terribly funny film, it's a got enough campy charm to justify sitting through it, and laughing at the silliness of it. For a film of this type, it's surprisingly long at 112 minutes. Even so, with five teams and all of the characters required to fill them, they still couldn't give everyone much more than a superficial personality. In fact, some of the team members never say anything at all.

Although Disney probably put a fair amount of work into this movie, it feels like a low-budget film, shot almost entirely on location around Los Angeles, with an almost completely unknown cast. David Naughton was an upcoming star at the time - having been on Dr. Pepper commercials for a number of years and having had a hit record from his short-lived TV show "Making It". Stephen Furst had been in Animal House, and there are a couple of recognizable character actors in supporting roles here and there including perpetual nerd Eddie Deezen as White Team captain Wesley, but there are few other actors of any note. The only exceptions being Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Ruebens as the arcade proprietor, and Michael J. Fox, both appearing in their first films. However, despite being given very little to work with, the actors do as good of a job with the material as can be expected. Blaylak (Dirk Blocker) steals most of the scenes with the Green Team, despite Lavitas (Brad Wilkin) actually being its captain. Leon is probably the most interesting of the characters, and seems to have fun with his role. Most of the rest of the characters are one-note stereotypes, but well suited enough for a film like this.

The plot is completely predictable, but that's to be expected. Asking anything beyond that would assume this film was meant to be something other than what it is - cheap, harmless entertainment. Unfortunately, the clues that are an integral part of the game aren't terribly interesting, and the answers are more often stumbled upon than actually figured out. It would have been nice to maintain a little suspense and keep the audience guessing a bit more, so they'd have a reason to stay involved with the film.

"We'd better find the next clue, before the rest of the audience leaves!"

The movie is firmly planted forever in 1979, when it was filmed during the summer. If the disco music didn't do it, then the arcade scene certainly would have. It's a perfect time capsule of that era - a pinball arcade that's gradually being invaded by video games. There's a wealth of vintage pre-80's video games and pinball machines to be found here, if you look closely. In addition to Star Fire, which is the key to unlocking one of the final clues and probably the newest game in there, you'll spot long-lost relics like Indy 800, Fonz, Speed Freak and a even a few projection-based games.

Unfortunately, the DVD offers no extras whatsoever. The only "bonuses" are a few liner notes (which are on the reverse side of the box's label), and a small reprint of the movie's poster on the backside of the contents card. The film print isn't in the best shape either. There are numerous specks and scratches, and the video transfer isn't very good. A commentary for a film like this would have been interesting to have included, because of all of the cast members and location shooting involved. Still, given the obscurity of the film, it's amazing it made it to DVD at all.


To be sure, Midnight Madness is not a great movie. But in its own way, it's a fun film to watch. If for no other reason than you're just looking for something to watch for two hours that won't require any sort of strenuous brain activity.

And at $10 in the bargain bin at Best Buy, it's not a bad deal, either.


Related arcade games in MacMAME

Star Fire

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