MGM // 1986 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // October 29th, 2001
They've got 30 days to clean up Chicago before they retire to paradise...Losing their police car, their suspect, and their pants is a real bad start!
Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines may seem an unlikely pair, but their offbeat comic chemistry takes this predictable mid-'80s buddy picture and makes it entertaining and at times downright hilarious.
Ray Hughes (Hines -- History of the World, Part 1, A Rage in Harlem, White Knights) and Danny Costanzo (Crystal -- When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, The Princess Bride) are a pair of wisecracking Chicago cops. (Are there any other kind?) They are fond of abusing police powers and department resources for such things as picking up women and intimidating suspects into talking.
Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits -- L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) is a fast-rising hood trying to become the next Al Capone, or "Chicago's first Spanish Godfather." In an effort to bust Gonzales for various and sundry crimes, Danny and Ray blow the lid off a long-running undercover op which has been trying to crack his drug ring. After a solid chewing out by Captain Logan (Dan Hedaya -- Clueless, Blood Simple) they are forced to take a "vacation" and spend some time away from the force.
To escape the dreary Chicago winter, they escape to Key West. There they are taken in by the life of leisure, natural beauty, and hot women. They marvel at the pace of life in a place where people stop and take time to watch the sunset each day. Danny comes up with the idea to retire from the force and buy a bar in Key West, and gets Ray to go along.
Still, they don't feel right about retiring until they can nail Gonzales. They head back to Chicago for one last mission as part of the force so that they can retire with clear consciences. They are aiming for one final shot at Gonzales, one final showdown where they can nail him to the wall.
Oh yeah, and there's a running subplot about Danny's ex-wife Anna (Darlanne Fluegel -- Battle Beyond The Stars), and her plans to get remarried to a dentist. No points for guessing how this little thread winds up.
Based on the paper-thin plot above, you might think you have seen this movie before, under a number of different titles. And it's true; there is nothing terribly original about this plot. What makes Running Scared different is the great comic interaction between Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines. There is a lot of semi-snappy dialogue in this movie that simply wouldn't work without Crystal and Hines to fire the lines at each other. Their on-screen chemistry saves Running Scared from being just another wisecracking-cop-looking-for-vengeance flick.
There are also some inspired police gags in this movie that only work because of the madcap chemistry between Hines and Crystal. There is a priceless police lineup scene, where everyone but the suspect is dressed in police uniform. There is the scene where Crystal informs a neighborhood full of thugs that he is declaring a "neighborhood watch area" because their suspect has in his possession a briefcase with $50,000 in small bills, and certainly needs his neighbors to help protect him. This, of course, makes suspect beg for the cops to arrest him, for his own safety. There is also the unmarked police car disguised as a yellow cab, which leads to all sorts of fun.
Probably the best sequence in the movie is an action sequence, including one of the best car chases I have seen in a long time -- all on the L tracks. Ray and Danny race along the tracks with a nun and a priest in the back seat, chasing down Gonzales in his black limousine. It is wonderfully shot, and captures a combined sense of excitement and humor that works very well.
Running Scared comes to us on video from MGM. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Picture quality is about what you would expect from a mid-'80s comedy. MGM has done a good job with the transfer, but the print still shows its age. Colors are relatively strong and vibrant, and the picture is as sharp as can be expected, but overall the image is quite grainy and muddy-looking. Black levels are generally pretty good, but shadowy scenes and areas tend to get a little muddy, grainy, and indistinct. I was surprised with how good Running Scared looks on DVD, but it is not up to the standard of more recent films.
There are three sound options available: English Dolby 2.0 Surround, French Dolby 2.0 Surround, and Spanish Mono. MGM did a nice job here as well, with an audio mix that is surprisingly aggressive. A lot of the audio is very front-oriented, but there is some nice use of surround channels for the funky '80s soundtrack, as well as some respectable incidental action sounds in the great car chase and final gun battle scenes. Again, the audio is not comparable to recent films, but is far better than I expected.
Extra content is fairly limited, but what we have is pretty good. First up is a theatrical trailer, running 1:30 and capturing the offbeat spirit of the movie. Next is a clip entitled "Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines Outtakes," which is essentially 4:30 of the two stars clowning around in their trailers, behind the scenes, and on the set. It's short, but it showcases Crystal's talent for improvisational comedy and is a welcome addition to this DVD.
As amusing as Running Scared is, and as funny as the two stars are, I suppose I have to point out that this movie is completely formulaic and predictable, incorporating every cop/buddy movie clich&233 ever written. The plot is also rather disjointed and stretches the imagination a bit too far. Worse yet, the writers felt they had to include the usual action clich&233s, including a big blow-out shoot-'em-up ending that really lets the steam out of the whole enterprise. Again, Hines and Crystal make the whole thing enjoyable and make it work, but this is not a movie that stands up to any sort of scrutiny.
It appears to me that the studios still do not understand what we mean when we say we want English subtitles on DVDs. In order to clear up any confusion, let me spell it out for them. What we mean by this is that we want English-language text available on-screen with the touch of a button on the DVD remote, the same as is available for other languages. What we do not mean by this is some goofy closed-captioning scheme that requires the viewer to break out the 500 page manual and secret decoder ring that came with their TV set to activate. It's really that simple. While I applaud MGM for including Spanish subtitles and even audio, which many studios inexplicably neglect, they are overlooking the most obvious subtitle language needed on Region 1 discs.
So, it's clichéed. So it's farfetched. So what? It's an enjoyable, slightly wacky comedy with two brilliant comic actors in the lead roles, and enough of a twist on the familiar to keep things interesting. I like it; so sue me. Besides, the movie that introduced a generation to the phrase "Colombian necktie" can't be all bad.
The movie, Billy Crystal, and Gregory Hines are all free to go and finally open that bar in Florida they have been talking about. MGM is released with the thanks of the court for a good effort on a movie that we would have expected to look and sound a heck of a lot worse.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines Outtakes