Cinemalphabet: R is for Running Scared (1986)
Gregory Hines, Billy Crystal, Joe Pantoliano, Jimmy Smits, Dan Hedaya
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Rare is the buddy flick that actually works, thanks the infectious chemistry between Hines and Crystal – who play narcotics cops – Running Scared is a lot of fun. Hyams, who I haven’t found to be great at exploring human connections, knocks it out of the park in this skillfully executed trope-a-licious action comedy. Hyams smartly stays close to familiar territory with dazzling action sequences and allows the film to glide on the shoulders of its irresistible leads. The plot is straight forward – a pair of cops on the tail of their terminally elusive suspect (played by Jimmy Smits, with a whole lotta hair) – and given this framework, Hyams is wise to find narrative conflict elsewhere. Hyams doesn’t bother trying to jazz up the story, but instead keeps the things moving with lots of snappy dialogue, action and nudity. Oh that gratuitous 80s nudity. These two cats get a lot of hot chicks! And why not? They’re both freaking adorable.
Crystal and Hines are both beloved in their respective fields (comedy, dance) but are underrated as action heroes. Hines, who died in 2003, had a hot streak of great roles in the 80s in films like Tap and White Nights (another great, albeit dated, film) and he’s well utilized here. Crystal, is so engaging and adapts elements of his well known screen persona (deadpan delivery, wisecracks) into a realistic portrayal of a tough, smart cop. Crystal manages to elevate shop worn aspects of buddy cop pictures – marital and drinking issues – into seriously amusing and poignant moments.
Unlike Beverly Hills Cop – the inevitable comparison – Running Scared is a gritty action picture. It’s not slapstick or silly. Hyams takes his action and his grit quite seriously and it works. Even the obligatory relocation to the Florida Keys is fun, but in service of the story.
- Danny Costanzo: [driving their car on the L tracks] Try not to scrape the third rail, OK? There’s about 600 volts in there.
Ray Hughes: It’s not the voltage that gets you. It’s the amps.
- [learning his wife is marrying a dentist] Danny Costanzo: Do they play the same music at home that they play in the office?
- Danny Costanzo: I can’t believe that you missed all six shots.
Ray Hughes: What are you talking about? I hit the wind shield six times in a row.
Danny Costanzo: I’m the one who him swerve.
Ray Hughes: Oh you made him swerve? You always aim low anyway.
Danny Costanzo: Oh that’s really good, let’s do height jokes Ray.
And of course there’s the killer jam by Michael McDonald! “Sweet Freedom”
If this summer’s collection of uninspired action flick dreck leaves you cold, give Running Scared a look see. You won’t be disappointed. The story’s great. The action’s solid and the performances are unforgettable.