1982 - R - 105 Mins.
|Director: Ron Howard
|Producer: Brian Grazer
|Written By: Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz
|Starring: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, Gina Hecht, Joe Spinell
|Review by: John Ulmer
Thanks to a hysterical debut performance by a young Michael Keaton and a likable (albeit unimpressive) Henry Winkler, "Night Shift" is an amiable enough comedy that provides a good dose of entertainment and humor in all the right places.
It stars Winkler as a shy morgue attendant who is grudgingly put on night shift duty -- only to find out that his new partner Bill (Keaton) is a loudmouthed, obnoxious, fast-talking city kid with no desire to work at all. During the long nights, Bill rents out the morgue’s “limo” as a transportation service. (“These guys paid me four hundred dollars to drive them from the airport to the UN!”) Bill is oblivious to failure and knows no humiliation. He carries around a tape recorder so that he can capture his brilliant ideas the moment they enter his brain. One of his more unique imaginings is the concept of feeding mayonnaise to tuna ahead of time, so that people don’t have to mix their own tuna fish salads.
Winkler is given top billing and the film primarily focuses on his character’s plight, however it is Keaton who lights up the screen and really makes "Night Shift" such an infectious experience. During the moments when he is off-screen, Night Shift feels bogged down and unrealistic – with an unnecessary subplot involving a prostitute (Shelley Long) and her romantic ventures with Winkler.
This does, however, open up a plot opportunity for the film: When her pimp is killed, Winkler and Keaton decide to become local “managers,” operating out of the morgue and taking a mere ten percent of profits versus the standard eighty. It’s a sort of darker version of Risky Business – and somehow the movie seemed a lot funnier, and also seemed to work a whole lot better, before it settled down into a plot. Admittedly the brothel aspect of the film leaves itself open to a few clever satirical moments (such as the “business” side of prostitution and Keaton’s charismatic chalkboard speech to the girls which plays like a coach lecturing a football team) but overall it runs out of steam long before it should.
This was Ron Howard’s first true attempt at making a movie, and it shows – the direction is awkward and not very distinct. It could be mistaken for any other "Police Academy"-era slapstick comedy on first inspection. And the movie – written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel – does seem to head towards "National Lampoon"/"SNL"-type humor a few times; most commonly when the film starts focusing on Winkler and his home life.
But as mentioned above, the comedy works best when it’s focusing on the relationship between Keaton and Winkler and not on the other stuff that it’s actually supposed to be about. Had some of the unnecessary “filler” been cut, the mandatory romance shortened, the unrealistic moments altogether scrapped and the scenes inside the morgue lengthened, "Night Shift" would be a really great comedy.
As it is, the movie works well as a crowd-pleaser – if you’re not expecting anything great you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and likely walk away with a higher opinion of the film than you ever imagined you would. It’s got a handful of really funny jokes and keeps the viewer’s interest, which is really all that should be expected from such a motion picture in the first place. A handful of comedies from the '80s seemed to slip under the radar, and this is one that - at the least - is fun to watch.