Street Date 12/12/23;
Stars Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, Steven Bauer, Darlanne Fluegel, Joe Pantoliano, Dan Hedaya, Jimmy Smits, Jon Gries, Tracy Reed, Larry Hankin, Don Calfa, John DiSanti.
Long before cellular technology became a boulder in the shoes of moviegoers everywhere, many a sweet moment in the dark was splintered by a running commentary track courtesy of two jabbering schmucks seated three rows behind. Disgusting as the thought may be, on rare occasions, audience participation can be more entertaining than the dialog you paid to hear. Such was the case the night in 1986 Running Scared premiered at Chicago’s Plaza Theatre, the type of cinder block triplex one may expect to find waiting for them on their arrival in hell. “That ain’t snow,” came a voice over-by-dere in the back row. “That’s f@#kin’ soap suds!” “Looks more like Ivory snow,” heckled another dissatisfied customer. This was before CGI ruled the world, when special effects technicians were forced to think outside the laptop box. Alas, you can fool some of the Chicagoans all of the time, and all of the Chicagoans some of the time, but you can not fool any Chicagoan any time as far as blizzards are concerned. The snow lathered and laughter grew, in some cases drowning out the dialogue.
At any moment one half expected the film’s stars, Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, to do a slippery-footed faceplant. It would have been more satisfying than anything screenwriters Gary DeVore and Jimmy Huston whipped together. The evening proved to be a perverse celebration of everything that’s wrong with going to the movies, an anomalous moment in time when the moviegoing experience proved to be more substantial than the picture itself. It also acted as a reminder of just how long movie comedy had been on a coarsening downslide. As much as I worship at the altar of Blazing Saddles, rather than inspiring a generation of filmmakers to sharpen their satirical skills, it led to the unleashing of more farts than a silo full of Lipton California chip-dip. Running Scared sprinted in the direction of another cop/buddy picture, 48 Hrs., before changing course and limping toward the box office comfort of budget-burning demolition derby comedy.
This wasn’t Billy Crystal’s founding feature. That defining moment came in 1977 with the release of Rabbit Test, Joan Rivers’ one and only spin in the director’s chair. (The reason a sophomore outing wasn’t in the cards became blindingly clear long before the first cue mark.) Crystal starred as television’s first openly gay character on “Soap,” so playing the world’s first pregnant man in River’s big screen sitcom felt like a cute switch at the time. According to IMDb, Running Scared was written with Gene Hackman and Paul Newman in mind before director Peter Hyams made the decision to go with a younger, less familiar, more cost-efficient duo. With meaty roles in Deal of the Century and The Cotton Club to his credit, Hines was the more box office friendly of the two. Rather than sweat an original story, DeVore and Huston reheated the old chestnut about two career cops who put off their retirement just long enough to crack one more case.
Much of the film’s humor wasn’t on the page, with the screenwriter’s banking on the chemistry of the two leads to keep things afloat. Crystal cut his teeth on improvisational television and it shows in every frame. The star’s “set up/punchline” exchanges sound anything but relaxed and conversant. When it comes to tapping into character logic, Hyams’ direction is as genuine as the soap bubble snow. While mixing it up a basketball court with a gang of neighborhood thugs, our heroes spot the bad guy (Jimmy Smits) and his No. 1 gunsel (Joe Pantoliano) parking a brand new Mercedes in the seemingly unsafe neighborhood. What kind of a cop, let alone an actor playing one, would risk drawing attention to themselves by pointing fingers and staring in the direction of the town’s drug kingpin? The scene ends with Crystal in Joey Pants’ apartment informing the dribbling thugs below of a suitcase in their possession containing $50,000. They walk Pantoliano down a flight of stairs to find the angry horde waiting at the bottom. The two detectives smile and light up a couple of cigars, but how do they get past the thugs? They pray that Hyams has the good sense to call “cut” and move on to the next scene, no explanation necessary.
Special features include an audio commentary by Peter Hyams, a Making-of featurette, outtakes, and the original trailer.