Manhattan Midnight (2001) Movie Review

Although it’s set in New York and the language is English (with a smattering of Chinese thrown in for good measure), Alfred Cheung’s “Manhattan Midnight” could easily be categorized as a U.S. production, although it’s not. The only well-known American face is leading man Richard Grieco (“Webs”), whose character is being chased by faceless FBI agents, one of whom speaks with a noticeable British accent. How strange is that?

“Midnight” stars Grieco as “M”, a shadowy hitman working out of a dingy, spartan apartment in New York City. We learn from M’s only friend (Michael Wong) that the two were once Navy SEALs. Aside from this little off-the-cuff exposition, nothing else is known about the mysterious M. Not that it matters, because like all movie hitmen, M spends his time in solitude pining for a normal life while shadows literally and figuratively surround his existence. I.e. it’s the same laconic hitman character you’ve seen in, say, 5 million other generic movies about hired killers.

Things take a tricky turn for our throaty voiced killer when he’s hired to snuff out the mistress of a philandering tycoon. But M botches the job, killing the victim’s twin sister instead of the intended target. Now you may be asking yourself how in the world M managed to mistake the two women, even if they happen to look exactly alike (because they’re both played by the beautiful Maggie Q). After all, didn’t M’s client give him the name and address of the target? How in the world did a world-class professional assassin make such a massive blunder? Answer: Cause the script says so, stupid.

But you needn’t worry, because writer/director Alfred Cheung doesn’t seem especially interested in answering such obvious questions. Instead, Cheung decides to focus on the burgeoning and very awkward relationship between M and Susan, who was the actual target. Having killed Hope, Susan’s innocent and identical twin sister, M is feeling mighty guilty, and well he should. Not only was Hope walking around with a gleaming halo, but she also took the time to comfort M, in old man disguise, when their elevator got stuck. You see, although he’s a cold-blooded killer, our hero is claustrophobic, stemming from his experiences in…a Southeast Asian bamboo cage?

Not that the how’s and why’s of “Manhattan Midnight’s” narrative construction matters. The film works best when it’s exploring the awkwardness of having to rely on your twin sister’s murderer to save your life, especially when your dead twin sister keeps appearing to you as a ghostly apparition. Although, since even in death Hope is eternally kind and unfathomably forgiving, she’s more of a spiritual entity, returning to guide the sister she never knew and her killer onto the road of righteousness. Or some such.

“Manhattan Midnight” is not a bad film at all if you ignore all the obvious questions that its gimmicky plot raises and then pretends didn’t really exist in the first place. Cheung seems to be going for a faux esoteric vibe, and for the most part the film is reasonably good when it focuses on the exterior turmoil of Susan and the conflicting angst of her would-be murderer-cum-guardian angel. These scenes work because Maggie Q. (“Naked Weapon”) is more than a fair actress. And lest my Manly Man’s Member Card be revoked, it deserves mentioning that Maggie Q is a stunning woman. As our hero, Grieco works well enough, although one would have liked more facets to what ultimately seems like a very one-dimensional role.

Since “Manhattan Midnight” is a movie about a hired killer, the action scenes deserve scrutiny. Cheung is less successful here, relying on very weak action choreography, especially by Hong Kong standards. For the most part the film’s action scenes amount to M standing perfectly still while exchanging gunfire with whatever faceless gunmen he happens to be confronting at the moment. Invariably the opponent gets shot and falls down, although not out of any real marksmanship on M’s part. I suppose even the most inept gunman could just stand there like a block of wood and keep firing nonstop until you finally hit something.

Besides Maggie Q, the other face Hong Kong fans will recognize is Michael Wong (“Beast Cops”), whose character shows up, disappears, then shows up again toward the end to help M finish off some stinking Italian gangsters. And being that the Italians are gangsters and “Manhattan Midnight” is constructed out of cliché, the movie’s main Italian goombah is of course always seen pigging out at the dining table and talking about how much he loves food. I mean, doesn’t all Italian gangsters do that?

Alfred Cheung (director) / Alfred Cheung (screenplay)
CAST: Richard Grieco …. M
Maggie Q …. Susan/Hope
Joe Rejeski …. John Schamus
Michael Wong …. Ken

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