The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Freebie and the Bean

Let's get down to business. And I mean business. The buddy cop genre is the greatest genre in the history of cinema. Go ahead. I dare you to identify one that is better. See? You simply can-not. There were sprinklings before here and there, but the genre took off in the 1980's. One of those early sprinklings? An oddball, off-the-wall, politically incorrect comedy from 1974's Freebie and the Bean.

Longtime partners working the Intelligence Unit in San Francisco, Bean (Alan Arkin) and Freebie (James Caan) usually get the job done, sometimes in spite of themselves with their constant bickering. Their latest target? The duo has long sought to put well-known and long successful racketeer Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen) behind bars. After most of a year investigating, they've got the evidence -- finally -- but the key witness can't be put into custody for three more days. The solution? Freebie and Bean must shadow Meyers and make sure nothing goes wrong before they can officially arrest him. There are problems of course. Many people would be in trouble should Meyers testify so a hit man from Detroit (maybe more) has been dispatched to finish him. Oh, and it's Super Bowl week. Oh, and Freebie and Bean might kill each other in the process. What could possibly go wrong?

Reading some reviews and message boards about this 1974 buddy cop flick, I saw a lot of people questioning why this is a movie just about completely forgotten over the years. I'm glad I wasn't the only one to think of that issue. I love James Caan and Alan Arkin, and I'd never even vaguely, remotely even kinda heard of it. Why is that? Well, it's not a classic, but it's pretty good. It is kooky, completely without a story, has tonal shifts left and right, is especially goofy and is incredibly politically incorrect. There are flaws, but my goodness, is it a fun ride.

Arkin and Caan. Caan and Arkin. How can you possibly go wrong? You can't here. Two of my favorite actors working together make it look effortless. As you expect from any buddy cop pairing, the duo has to bitch and moan and criticize and ridicule...even though they're the best of friends. Arkin is Bean, a Mexican officer, all business, no nonsense. Caan is Freebie, wild and all over the place and not one to turn down a free gift here and there (hence the nickname). The story drifts as needed, and you get a sense the script was a couple set pieces, an outline of a story, and just blank sports for Arkin and Caan to improvise, to fire lightning fast insults and jokes and one-liners for as long as they could. Too many classic lines to mention -- most of them foul-mouthed, racist, sexist and generally inappropriate -- but quite the Batman and Batman (no Robin here) to lead the way.

'Freebie/Bean' comes from director Richard Rush and comes as a bit of fresh air considering the time it was released. We're talking cynical cop flicks like French Connection, Bullitt, the Dirty Harry movies and plenty others. It's just a funny movie. That's all and that's it. That's not a bad thing. You sit back and enjoy it because there isn't any messages in sight or anything dark or hard-hitting. These are two cops who are friends and fight like an old married couple bombing their way through San Francisco who stop at nothing to put their case together. If half the city should be destroyed in the process....well, so be it. We had a good time. San Francisco looks great as a backdrop as well, an interesting choice considering so many cop movies were shot on-location there. Moral of the story? As much as I love those previously mentioned flicks, it's cool to see a cop movie do a complete 180.

Who else to look for? Some fun, familiar faces. Kruschen has a ton of fun as Meyers, the racketeer who can't believe how stupid the cops pursuing him really are. Loretta Swit of MASH fame plays his pretty young wife. Also look for Alex Rocco as the conviction rate-minded district attorney, Mike Kellin as the boys' lieutenant, Paul Koslo and Christopher Morley as a couple witnesses, and a scene-stealing Valerie Harper as Bean's possibly cheating wife, Consuelo.

So there's gotta be something wrong...right? It's the bizarre, often out of left field shifts in tone. It's dark and funny and politically incorrect, and then a complete direction change into a never-ending car and motorcycle chase (had...HAD to be an influence on The Blues Brothers) that relies on sight gags and Keystone Cops-esque humor. There's little warning too as things shift, especially toward the end with more than a few crazy twists, some that work, some that are shocking, and one that almost had me questioning the whole movie. Thankfully, it was a twist within a twist in a mystery surrounded by a paradox. Anyhoo, this is all complaining to complain. The movie is a ton of fun with one laugh after another. It's James Caan and Alan Arkin basically spending 2 hours causing collateral damage and bitching at each other in their downtime. If that's not a recipe for success, I don't know what is.

Freebie and the Bean (1974): ***/**** 

No comments:

Post a Comment