Can you think of a more unlikely pair than Billy Crystal (Danny Costanzo) and Gregory Hines (Ray Hughes)? And to play hard-nosed cops? But it works. The two play off each other like a regular Crosby and Kay, all smiles and wise-cracks. And Crystal is allowed to seamlessly work in his shtick without Hines seeming awkward or like he doesn't belong. The two are the anti-Lethal Weapon. The cops who don't seem like cops. And what's more, they don't really want to be cops anymore. Running Scared focuses on the cop mid-life crisis if you will. What happens when cops stop shooting and start thinking.
Ray Hughes: Pointing a gun at a police office. Can we waste them for that?
Danny Costanzo: I think so.
When the two have a near death experience at the hands of a drug dealer, the captain sends them on their way to Key West to take a break. It's here that they get away from the cold streets of Chicago into the sun and fun of Florida. And it's here that Michael McDonald works his sweet music magic, capturing all the carefreeness that is Florida in the song "Sweet Freedom." Well, that's all it takes. Crystal and Hines are ready to turn in their badges for good and open a bar in Key West. But the drug dealer Julio (Jimmy Smitts) who almost killed them before is out and about and ready to pull down a big drug deal (with Crystal's ex-wife as captor) and just like that, the two are back in the thick of things, busting through doors, firing big guns and forgetting to ask questions later.
Lab technician: This is real shit. This coke is pure shit.
Ray Hughes: It's good shit, right?
Lab technician: I mean bad shit.
Ray Hughes: Bad shit like "this shit is bad?"
Lab technician: It's shit shit. This shit isn't worth shit. There's barely enough coke in here to attract the dogs. Anybody caught on the street with this would get killed.
Of course they win in the end. Of course they do. And Crystal gets back together with his ex-wife and Crystal and Hines skip Key West and stay cops (if this is a spoiler to any of you, God have mercy on your soul). But this movie isn't about the formula. It's what they do with the formula that counts. First, it's the pairing of Crystal and Hines. It's risky and unexpected and it's brilliant. Second, it's the premise of cops not really wanting to be cops anymore that gives an otherwise traditional buddy movie, some depth and a soul. Third, it's Peter Hyams, an otherwise serious director (The Star Chamber, Outland, 2010 The Presidio) tackling comedy and doing it so well. And then of course there's Snake (Joe Pantoliano). Before there was Leo Getz from Lethal Weapon, the crook turned side-kick, there was Snake. An unexpected and refreshing inclusion to the formula not that there was any risk of tiring of Crystal or Hines.
Ray Hughes: Listen, Snake, here's the situation: I have this gun here. Now I am going to take the gun out and I am going to shoot a lot of holes in the door. If you are standing if front of the door, what can I tell ya? Some of the holes are gonna be in you. Ya catching my drift, Snake?
While I praise Running Scared for knocking the buddy cop formula so well, I also have to recognize how well it follows it. The comedy is there and surprisingly it still holds up well (although the Menudo joke falls hard). And the action is excellent. The car chase that takes place on the L in Chicago is arguably one of the best chase scenes of any movie. And the final showdown between the pair and Julio is as satisfying an ending as you could ask. Not too much and not too little.
A great buddy cop movie with an unlikely cast directed by an unlikely director. And yet, lightning never struck twice. Crystal and Hines never paired again. Hyams went back to serious fare and Joe Pantoliano never dyed his hair red again. And Running Scared slipped through the cracks, hardly to be remembered and rarely to be referenced, with the exception of this guy right here.