Night Shift

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Night Shift Movie Poster Image
Prostitution, nudity, violence in dated '80s comedy.
  • R
  • 1982
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

One of the movie's subplots concerns the need for one of the lead characters to start standing up for himself so he's no longer constantly taken advantage of, but this is often overshadowed by the central story. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The two lead characters are men who work overnight in a morgue and decide to become pimps. 

Violence

Some spoilers: A pimp is killed by getting tied to a chair and thrown out of an apartment window several stories up. These same two men who kill the pimp are shown beating up another man in an alley, tie a man to a reclining chair with a tube in his mouth, and are on the verge of turning on a spigot connected to the tube and forcing him to fill up with water but are stopped when they get into a gunfight with the police. Prostitute shown bloodied and beaten. Joke made about sexually assaulting Girl Scouts. Believing a mugger has entered their apartment, a group of kids attack one of the lead characters, hitting him repeatedly on the head. 

Sex

Movie centered on two men who take advantage of working overnight in a morgue to become pimps. Naked breasts. Bite marks on exposed male buttocks. Ugly sides of prostitution mostly glossed over. Male lead character stares at the rear end of the female lead character as she leans forward wearing only panties. Consensual sex; no nudity, but sex talk. During a raucous party in the morgue, a couple have sex in a cadaver storage drawer. Engaged couple unable to have sex -- as man attempts to initiate foreplay, the woman is too obsessed with her weight to be aroused. While making an argument in favor of becoming pimps, one lead character tells the other that they would be allowed to have sex with the prostitutes. In Times Square, marquee advertises a movie called A Midsummer Night's Wet Dream. Lead character stuffs crotch with toilet paper. A prostitute reads a poem that references "humping." Lead character talks of how his ex-girlfriend "went lesbo." 

Language

Frequent profanity. "S--t," "a--hole," "t-t," "bastard," "bitch," "piss-head," "jagoff," "numbnuts." Middle finger gesture. Euphemisms for sex. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Binge-drinking -- college students throw a party in the morgue with lots of beer and drunken revelry. Cigarette smoking. Cocaine called "nose candy," and cocaine abusers called "tooters" and "tootheads." A woman is referred to as "Miss Heroin 1982." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Night Shift is a 1982 comedy in which Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton play two men working the overnight hours of a morgue who decide to become pimps. While not necessarily glamorized, prostitution isn't really shown in a negative light either; aside from an instance of physical violence, the threat of jail time and some complaints about money, the life of "the world's oldest profession" comes off as both a lark and a way in which Winkler's character learns to stop being a pushover. As an inducement to becoming pimps, Keaton's character excitedly talks of how, if they become pimps, they can have sex with the prostitutes whenever they want. Keaton's character also makes a joke about sexually assaulting Girl Scouts. There is some nudity: female breasts, bite marks on a man's buttocks. Winkler's character is shown ogling his neighbor while she bends over wearing nothing below the waist except a pair of panties. While in jail, Winkler's character is horrified and humor is mined out of an effeminate inmate making eyes and kissy faces at him. A man is tied to a chair and thrown to his death out an apartment window, and there's a gunfight between two thugs and the police. A lead character is nearly killed by being tied up in a chair with a hose in his mouth on the verge of being forced to take in gallons of water. During a party scene in the morgue, college students binge-drink beer, and a couple are caught having sex inside one of the cadaver drawers. The movie also has jokes referencing cocaine and heroin; sex talk, not only involving the prostitutes, but also between consenting couples during foreplay and after sex; cigarette smoking; and lots of profanity ("s--t," "a--hole," "t-t") and euphemisms for sex acts. 

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What's the story?

Mild-mannered Chuck Lumley (Henry Winkler) can't catch a break. The promotion and raise he expected to receive at his job at the morgue doesn't happen when the boss decides to give it to his incompetent nephew instead, and to make matters worse, Lumley's schedule has been changed so that he now works the night shift. His fiancee is too obsessed with her weight to make love with him. While a whiz at investing money, all of Lumley's best ideas were stolen outright by his co-workers at his former finance job, so now all he wants is a little peace and quiet as he works in the eerie emptiness of the morgue. Enter Billy "Blaze" Blazejowski (Michael Keaton), Lumley's new partner on the night shift, a hedonistic wild man who talks nonstop of his inventions and schemes to make it rich. While he now contends with Bill at work and his fiancee at home, Lumley meets his neighbor Belinda (Shelley Long), who works as a call girl. After her pimp is killed and she is beaten up by a customer, Billy, upon learning of the situation, has an idea: Bill and Chuck can take over as pimps for Belinda and the other prostitutes who are now without a pimp. They can conduct business while in the morgue and pay the prostitutes better than they have ever been paid by any pimp before them. It takes some convincing of all parties concerned, but soon the money starts to roll in. But with success comes the unwanted attentions of the criminal underworld and the police, and the situation is further complicated when Chuck and Belinda begin to have feelings for each other. As things take a turn for the worse on all fronts, Chuck must decide if he's going to be a man or a mouse for the rest of his life and if he's going to express his love for Belinda or continue being a passive doormat. 

Is it any good?

While enjoyable for the odd nostalgia of seeing the older, dirtier New York City in all its slimy splendor, NIGHT SHIFT isn't as funny as it once was for any number of reasons. For starters, there's the questionable premise of finding humor in pimps and prostitution. In terms of content, it seems like director Ron Howard was trying to give fellow Happy Days cast member Henry Winkler the chance to play someone who's nowhere near as cool as The Fonz, and while he often pulls off playing a human doormat, there's still the lingering idea that another actor would have been a better fit. And Michael Keaton plays the archetypal rock-and-roll wild man, and while he's a character bursting with quips and catchphrases, Billy Blaze isn't exactly a timeless character. 

While not totally the movie's fault, such "buddy movies" in which a square and a free spirit are thrown together to face the same situation became a staple of '80s comedies, cop movies, and tearjerker dramas to such a saturation point, it's still a played-out premise. Which makes Night Shift a decent period piece, but that's about it. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the questionable content of some '80s comedies. Homophobia, sexism, racial stereotyping, sexual assault, and underage drinking and drug use sometimes come up in these movies -- content that for many is appalling by today's standards. What are some examples of questionable humor in Night Shift? Are such concerns over movies released decades ago worth discussing? Why or why not?

  • How is prostitution conveyed in this movie? Do you think it's realistic? Why or why not?

  • The two lead characters are "opposites" in every way. What do you see as the appeal of opposite characters thrown into the same situation? What are some other examples of movies with opposite characters? 

Movie details

For kids who love the '80s

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