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We Lost the Suspect, Our Keys, Our Car, OUR PANTS! : Running Scared

June 8, 2010

Nice pants!

Gregory Hines, Billy Crystal, Joe Pantoliano, Jimmy Smits, Dan Hedaya
Directed by: Peter Hyams

Writer-Director Peter Hyams and I have an uneasy relationship. I tend to associate the Hyams with his ambitious grabs at greatness in films such as Capricorn One, 2010: The Year We Make Contact and Outland. But he’s also made reasonably enjoyable films such as The Presidio, Narrow Margin, Timecop and the underrated Hanover Street. I root for Hyams in his quest to make that “say something cool” film, and was surprised that one of his films – the charming 1986 buddy action flick Running Scared – is among my nearly forgotten gems.

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.

Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal in Running Scared

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.

Memorable Quotes:

  • 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.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2010 7:59 am

    Billy Crystal had a couple of good years between cute Jewish boy and old Jewish guy where he was really hot, and he made the most of them starting with this movie and ending with City Slickers.

  2. irishup permalink
    June 8, 2010 9:37 am

    Ohhhh, nooooo, you missed the BIBLE question! May I have more petite marshmallows for my cocoa?

    Running Scared is a HUGE fave, and trope-a-licious is right on! Check: cops retiring to run a bar, the rookie replacement team hazing, irritable Capt-who-puts-up-with-it-cuz-they’re-the-best (I LOVE Dan Hedaya in this role!), stake-out shenanigans, and inventive car-chase. I do believe that’s BINGO!

    Gregory Hines’ film work was always interesting. And he didn’t always pick/get roles that used his agility and grace – like in “Wolfen”, where he was the nerdy lab guy who somehow winds up in the middle of the cop mystery. Oh, he was sooo fiine in everything! *snif*

  3. evmaroon permalink
    June 8, 2010 3:31 pm

    I love this movie! Also loved Hines in White Nights. But Running Scared was better!

  4. June 8, 2010 3:45 pm

    In my mind I pronounce Hyams as “Hams”. I suspects this strongly informs the lens I use to examine his filmography.

  5. raymondj permalink
    June 9, 2010 2:55 pm

    That opening brass chord and the beat that follows never ceases to perk me up. Most of my memories of this movie are from that music video, which I saw approximately 300x more than Running Scared. Remember when movie stars would guest star in soundtrack songs? Aw, the good old days.

  6. June 9, 2010 3:18 pm

    The “White Knights” dance bit always slays me. Billy Crystal’s a treasure. He should make more movies. I forget how enjoyable he is on film. Appropriately hammy, but not Robin Williams obnoxious.

    Also, I never did figure out who was the other guy in the Don’t Worry Be happy video. It looks like Christopher Reeve.

  7. raymondj permalink
    June 9, 2010 3:45 pm

    do you mean Bill Irwin?

  8. June 9, 2010 5:02 pm

    Omg! That’s him! He’s foxy.

  9. June 9, 2010 6:18 pm

    OhMyGod! Bill Irwin!

    He’s a clown, he’s an acrobat, he’s a mime, and one heck of a good actor in serious roles too. And his performance piece The Regard of Flight makes me laugh my ass off every time I watch it… which doesn’t usually happen with work classified as “avant-garde”.

    ❤ ❤ ❤ Bill Irwin ❤ ❤ ❤

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