The Best Movie You Never Saw: Running Scared (1986)

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at RUNNING SCARED (1986)!

THE STORY: Two Chicago cops (Billy Crystal & Gregory Hines), fed-up with the bureaucracy of their jobs, plan on taking early retirement to Key West, even buying a bar. After giving their captain thirty days’ notice, they discover that the drug lord they put away has been released on a technicality, and they vow to take him down before their retirement starts.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Smits. Directed by Peter Hyams.

THE HISTORY: About a year before LETHAL WEAPON firmly established the buddy-cop formula that would define the eighties, funny-guys Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines gave it a shot themselves in the rough-and-tumble cop comedy, RUNNING SCARED. An MGM release at the time that the studio’s fortunes were in the doldrums, they gave it a go, hiring Peter Hyams, coming off the studio’s big-budget 2010 to direct. They even went so far as to hire “Thriller” producer Rod Temperton to put together the soundtrack, which was to be filled with pop tunes. One of them, “Sweet Freedom” by Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald even hit the Billboard Top 10.

The reviews were mixed, but it wound-up being a moderate box office success, grossing $38 million, and generating sequel talk for a while, although none ever wound up getting made. In the years following its release, it was overshadowed by Crystal’s ascent as a comic leading man, making this actioner a curious one-off.

"After 2010 MGM came to me with this script about two elderly cops in New York who retire. I said I wanted to make it about two young cops in Chicago who don’t retire. We went around a bit. There were a lot of cop movies around at that time, so I decided that if I wanted to be interesting I needed to do it with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie. So I wanted Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and I got them and they were wonderful together. They just clicked." – Peter HyamsEmpire Interview

WHY IT'S GREAT: Billy Crystal – an action star? This is a movie I often have a hard time convincing people actually exists, as no one can fathom such a thing. Exist it does though, and to give Billy credit, he makes a good enough lead, with this trying to give him and Hines a kind-of BEVERLY HILLS COP-style vehicle, allowing them to crack wise and take down baddies. Both acquit themselves well, and it always seemed strange to me that Hines, before passing away at the young age of fifty seven, never really crossed over to that next level of stardom, as he had loads of charisma, not to mention solid chemistry with Crystal.

If anything, RUNNING SCARED probably overemphasized action, which is likely why a follow-up never happened, as it’s fairly short on laughs – with comedy never director Hyams’s strong suit. Luckily, action is his forte, and there are some really good set-pieces, such as an amazing car chase on the Chicago “L” track, and the final shootout in a mini-mall, with Hines making memorable use of a window washer’s rig to wreak havoc on the baddies. Another odd bit of this curio- the main baddie is played by none other than Jimmy Smits, only about a year before the show “L.A Law” turned him into a heartthrob, plus an early role for Joe Pantoliano.

BEST SCENE: Even the critics that gave RUNNING SCARED a hard time had to give it credit for the amazing car chase along the Chicago “L” track, with the tension only broken by Crystal’s mugging as Hines mans the wheel of their bulletproof taxi. I love Crystal’s line about how Hines always gets to drive in car chases while the most exciting thing he’s allowed to do is parallel park.

SEE IT: RUNNING SCARED is available on Blu-ray in a nice HD transfer, although if you order online don’t confuse it for the (also excellent) Wayne Kramer thriller, RUNNING SCARED. Both are good in their own way, but boy are they different.

PARTING SHOT: I was too young to see RUNNING SCARED in its original run, but I loved catching it when it would show up on TBS during the nineties (often programmed with the similar MIDNIGHT RUN), and it’s one I’ve always enjoyed watching from time-to-time. If you’re looking for a lost eighties actioner, this is a good one to check out.

Source: JoBlo.com



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