Directed By: Ron Howard
Starring: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long
Tag line: "The oldest profession in a new-look comedy"
Trivia: Kevin Costner plays Frat Boy #1 in what was only his second film role ever
I must have seen Night Shift twenty times on cable TV, and it always made me laugh. An early comedy by director Ron Howard, Night Shift gave Michael Keaton his first major film role, and the young actor definitely made the most of it!
New York City morgue employee Chuck Lumley (Henry Winkler) is one of life’s losers. Pushed around by his weight obsessed fiancée (Gina Hecht), Chuck has also just been demoted to the night shift, putting up no fight at all when he realizes the boss’s nephew (Bobby DiCicco) has been given his old position. To make matters worse, Chuck has to break in a new partner: loud-mouth Bill Blazejowski (Keaton), whose incessant chatter and harebrained schemes turn the normally peaceful morgue into a madhouse.
As Chuck soon discovers, though, he’s not the only one with problems. Sexy prostitute Belinda (Shelley Long), who lives in the apartment next to his, recently lost her longtime pimp (Julius LeFlore), who was murdered by a pair of thugs (Radja Dhola and Richard Belzer). As a result, she and many other “ladies of the evening” have nobody to protect them. Chuck makes the mistake of telling Bill about Belinda’s situation, leading the self-proclaimed “idea man” to suggest that he and Chuck fill the void left by the pimp’s death. In short, Bill proposes that they turn the morgue in an escort service! Yet as outlandish as this idea sounds, Chuck (who is falling in love with Belinda) goes along with it, and before long the two partners are making a boatload of money. But while Bill is having the time of his life, Chuck can't help but wonder what will happen when the law finally catches up with them.
Henry Winkler, better known to audiences as “The Fonz” in the ‘70s sitcom Happy Days, sheds his ultra-cool persona to play Chuck, a timid, painfully shy underdog who, in spite of his many phobias, is a likable guy. Shelley Long, a year or so away from her breakout role as barmaid Diane in Cheers, is equally effective as the hooker who steals Chuck’s heart, and the scenes in which Winkler and Long appear together are among the movie’s best. I also have to give some props to director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who took what could have easily been a sleazy, exploitative story about pimps and prostitutes and turned it into a funny, occasionally endearing motion picture.
But from the moment he steps on-screen, his Walkman blasting The Rolling Stones’ "Jumpin’ Jack Flash", Night Shift belongs to Michael Keaton. As the often frantic Bill Blazejowski, a guy with so many ideas that he has to carry around a tape recorder to remember them all, Keaton is flat-out hilarious, making us laugh at his antics while, at the same time, infusing the character with enough warmth and humanity to ensure he’s the perfect friend for someone like Chuck.
Michael Keaton went on to have a stellar career after Night Shift, starring in such movies as Beetlejuice, 1989’s Batman, and, more recently, a pair of Best Picture winners (Birdman and Spotlight). If you want to see the film that made all this possible, then this ‘80s comedy gem should be the very next one you watch.