All “buddy cop” movies have certain similarities. They’re always comedies, there’s always some sarcastic banter between the partners, they always get in trouble with “Da Chief”, and there’s always a conflict between being too cautious and not being cautious enough. In Peter Hyams’ film Running Scared, both of the cops fill both aspects of the caution conflict. Billy Crystal plays Danny Costanzo, and his partner is Ray Hughes, played by Gregory Hines (who we don’t really see enough of in films, so it’s good to see him in a major role here). They’re a pair of reckless Chicago narcotics detectives, and known for having maverick tendencies and going a little too far in the pursuit of justice — to the point that one of the early running gags is that their fellow officers jokingly ask them if they have alibis for a suspicious death.
No, I’m not threatening him, he’s just got a little something right there.
When their careless attempts to bring in drug lord Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits) almost get them killed, their Captain (Dan Hedaya) forces them to go on vacation. Just before they go, Danny comes into an inheritance, and while in Florida, the two contemplate retiring and buying a bar. But when they get back to Chicago, Gonzales is back on the streets and they need to put him behind bars for good… only now that they’re thinking about getting out of police work for good, it’s harder for them to be as reckless as they used to be, or as bold as they need to be.
The premise works well for a buddy cop movie, and keeps the mood fairly light despite some serious moments. Crystal and Hines work great together, with a natural camaraderie and a lot of good one-liners back and forth. Even the lines that don’t have obvious punch lines wind up being funny because of their delivery. And they work well with the other cast members as well. The ubiquitous Joe Pantoliano plays a low-level drug dealer they bring in in the beginning, who leads them to Gonzales, and every scene he shares with Crystal and Hines (especially Crystal) is hilarious. And Steven Bauer and Jon Gries play a couple of detectives who Danny and Ray are asked to “show the ropes”, which of course means plenty of opportunities to prank the relative newbies. And there’s a bit of an emotional impact with Darlanne Fluegel playing Danny’s ex-wife, but even there there’s a fair amount of comedy in the relationship. Being the villain, Jimmy Smits doesn’t get as many opportunities to be comedic, but he pulls off the role with flair, stopping just short of chewing the scenery when he’s on screen.
Running Scared is good enough that I’m a bit surprised I haven’t heard much about it. I suspect that with Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon, it simply got lost in the shuffle. There were apparently plans for a sequel, but they were shelved. This is too bad, as Running Scared is a lot of fun, and Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines make a great comedy team.