Teamings like Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, those seem somewhat obvious and make sense. How about pairing a comedian just off a year stint at Saturday Night Live and a song and dance man known for his Broadway performances? Not the obvious choice for a buddy cop movie, is it? Some mad genius knew what he was doing then when he cast Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as two street-wise Chicago cops trying to put a Colombian drug dealer away and aren't above bending the rules a little bet to get it done. A comedian and a Broadway actor seems like an odd choice to me, but it's an inspired decision.
After putting drug dealer Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits) away since he's been released on parole, Chicago detectives Ray Hughes (Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Crystal) are given a vacation. Sick of their off-the-wall tactics, their captain (Dan Hedaya) wants them out of the way so they can't cause any trouble. The two cops take him up on the offer, deciding once they get to the Florida Keys that they've had enough of a career that requires them to be shot at on a daily basis. They buy a bar together, and head back to Chicago to give their 30-days notice. Bad news though, Gonzales is out on bail and rumors of a huge inbound shipment of cocaine is all over the city. Hughes and Costanzo have their plans for the future, but not before they get Gonzales behind bars for good.
Like so many 80s movies -- especially of the buddy cop variety -- the tone here is comical throughout with plenty of laughs. Check out IMDB's Memorable Quotes for just some of the banter between these two smart-ass detectives. Sure, the main focus of the story is catching a drug dealer and a cop killer, but the tone is still somehow jokey with one-liners flying left and right. Whudda thunk it? Hughes and Costanzo clearly know what they're doing with their work being 16-year veterans of the force, but their plans never seem to go smoothly. Throw in some cheesy 80s montages -- like THIS or THIS -- and you have all the necessary ingredients for a very 1980s movie.
Hines and Crystal have a great chemistry together that drives their quick-paced banter in just about every scene. They are partners, but they're also best friends so for them it's work, but they have fun doing it; getting shot at be damned. Two guys typically not associated with action movies also look to be having a lot of fun in the shootouts and chases, especially the finale in the State of Illinois building in downtown Chicago, an action-packed ending that's the perfect ending for the story. The rest of the cast is just as good, including Hedaya as the captain always ready to lose his mind, Smits as the villainous drug dealer who can't seem to lose these two detectives, Joe Pantoliano as Snake, one of Gonzales' pushers, and Steven Bauer and Jon Gries as two detectives ready to replace our heroic duo.
Of all the movies filmed on location in Chicago, this might be one of the best up there with The Blues Brothers. Chicago in winter is not the most pleasant of places, but setting the story in winter gives 'Scared' all sorts of mood and an ideal backdrop for the story. Director Peter Hyams isn't content to just shoot in the glamorous parts of downtown either, he goes to some seedier locations to show what some of Chicago's South Side really looks like. If you watch closely, you can see some familiar locales, but in general Hyams stays away from the more obvious ones. The State of Illinois building in the finale is a great set piece though.
One other thing I feel like I've got to mention involving a car chase midway through the movie. Sure, they do seem to get from O'Hare to downtown Chicago awful quick, but that's a minor complaint. Car chases have been done to death, and directors have been looking for new ways to spice them up for years. The French Connection had Gene Hackman driving under an elevated train trying to keep up. Running Scared has the chase on the elevated train tracks, Chicago's L. I imagine driving on the tracks was hell on the cars, but it's a great sequence. You can watch some of the chase HERE. Definitely one of the coolest car chases I've ever seen.
Running Scared doesn't have the name or reputation of the Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon series, but it deserves a better reputation. It's a truly funny movie full of quotable lines with surprisingly strong work from stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, a great supporting cast, and some phenomenal Chicago shooting locations. I'm biased of course, living in Chicago, but this one won't disappoint.
Running Scared <----trailer (1986): *** 1/2 /****