Thursday, January 19, 2023

80's Watch: Running Scared (1986)

Watched:  01/17/2023
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Peter Hyams

Running Scared (1986) was a movie I remember watching a bunch during the window when we had whatever movie channel carried it in the late 1980's, which is the last time I watched the film.   I haven't really missed it, but it kept coming up thanks to the power of Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom".  And, Jamie had never seen it and got tired of me saying "yeah, we could watch that some time."  So, we did.

I have no idea how the movie was considered when I was a kid.  I'm not looking up reviews or box office now.  As a middle-schooler, of course I loved loose cannon, wise-cracking cops who get to shoot guns, get into shenanigans and are repeatedly shown to be right.  As an adult, this is a movie about wise-cracking cops repeatedly abusing their authority, engaging in police brutality, tampering with evidence, getting witnesses and stoolies killed, stealing from the evidence locker, refusing to follow basic procedure, and never having to explain major shoot outs and acts of violence.  It is wiiiiiild.  This was what we wanted to watch in the 1980's.

The film is also constantly asking "so, this isn't racist, right?"  But, man, we sure had no problem showing the only Latinos in a movie as crooks or aiding crooks.  

To say it hasn't aged well is an understatement.

The basic plot is that Chicago's loosest of loose cannon cops are made to take vacation after stepping on the toes of a different vice sting (and establishing our villain in Jimmy Smits).   They've always been "shoot first and ask questions later" guys about their own safety and that of the the greater Chicagoland area.   But while in Key West, apparently landing women way out of their league, they impulsively buy a bar and plan to retire in 30 days.  As short-timers, they suddenly realize they could get shot and die.  Thus the title.  But it doesn't really effect the plot more than, like, twice.      

The movie is pitched as an action-comedy, but is short on both.  It's a long movie, and it didn't really need to be because it's a movie that doesn't really have anything interesting to say, and is a basic "cops catch drug kingpin" film that was being churned out every week back in the 1980's.*  

It's not that it's not funny at all.  It's sorta funny, but it basically feels like bits of improv more than any focused effort to be a comedy.  The violence is sporadic and feels out of whack from the mugging Crystal and Hines are up to, so when they get super serious at the end of the film, you're kinda-like "you two dipshits have been yukking it up and putting the entire city of Chicago in danger every twenty minutes this whole movie, and now you're concerned?"

Crystal does his familiar stuff from the era, Hines is charming.  We're told both are more physically appealing than I would guess they are.  And it's a reminder that roles for women in 1986 were mostly to stand around and shake heads at the antics of our heroes.  It also has Joe Pantoliano, Dan Hedaya (of course), Jon Gries, Larry Hankin, and probably other 80's and 90's faces you might enjoy.

I didn't hate it, but it's more interesting as a dated artifact of a bygone era than as a good movie.  I dunno.  Maybe I'll watch it again in another 33 years.

But, hey, it's fun to see the Chicago of the 1980's that isn't in the Hughes-filmed mini-mansion North Side suburbs.

*I always found it peculiar that coked-up producers were making so many movies about stopping cocaine.  That would be like me making a movie about stopping a cheese-monger.  


Steven said...

Excellent well; thou art a cheese-monger!

I've thought about this movie a lot, and I was definitely thinking about it a lot more after we saw "The Cotton Club" and I had a forced reminder of just how good Gregory Hines was as an actor (as a dancer, never in doubt).

But yeah, not surprised to hear that the mixed race partnership steeped in 80's mores didn't transfer to the present ... awkwardly.

The League said...

It's not the Black/ White aspect of the film, which I suspect was probably written race neutral and never touched after to mention it. Instead, it's very "well, as you know, Latinos sell cocaine". Which may make the notion this may have been written as two white cops even worse, if true.

Steven said...

Aych. Yes. That Latino angle is certainly rough. There's probably some hint in that of "why is all the money and capital flowing out of our Rust Belt / East Coast cities to...(checks binder) a swamp?"

BTW: This Dutch poster has some funny translation to it: "The Superdetectives of Chicago" would be the translation of the title. Only the adjective "Superbange" (Very scared) refers to the English title ("Running scared"). And it was worth calling out on the header blurb that sometimes they're standing in their underwear (underbroek). Like...not...really core to the plot?

IIRC this movie also shows the incomprehensible ripness of Billy Crystal's abs at this point in history. Mr. Saturday night is downing creatine and doing extra sets, apparently.

The League said...

"My fellow Dutchmen, be aware! Great comedy will be presented through the antics of American policemen who will sometimes be in their underwear (but not always, just upon occasion)."

Yeah, Billy Crystal knowing he'd be shirtless in the movie led to some interesting choices.