Two street-wise Chicago cops have to shake off some rust after returning from a Key West vacation to pursue a drug dealer that nearly killed them in the past.
Most of you remember that mid-80's action-comedy featuring the African American cop and his wise cracking Caucasian partner that is set in the big city during Christmas time. No, I'm not talking about Lethal Weapon, I'm talking about the movie that came out a year before that one did – the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal team-up of 'Running Scared'.
While the movie never became as beloved at that other buddy-cop flick mentioned above, there's no doubt that 'Running Scared' helped launch the big-screen career of Billy Crystal in what was his very first starring role. Up until this point in his career, he was primarily known for his stint on 'Saturday Night Live' and his role as a gay character on the TV series 'Soap'. In fact, an argument can be made that 'Running Scared' wouldn't have worked without Crystal, as he's the jet fuel in a machine that otherwise feels pretty familiar, even by 1980's Hollywood standards.
Set in Chicago and directed by Peter Hyams, 'Running Scared' focuses on police partners Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal) and Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines), who find themselves on the trail of a local drug dealer, Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits), who wants to become 'the Spanish Godfather' of the city. They manage to bust him, but in the process screw up a sting operation that a pair of other cops in their district have been working on for a long time. Put on paid leave, Danny and Ray decide to take a vacation in Key West, Florida, during which they decide to quit the police force and buy a bar for themselves. They still have to put in 30-days' notice back in Chicago…and when they return, they learn that Gonzales has been released and is back to his criminal activity. Naturally, the duo's final days on the force are spent trying to bring Gonzales to justice.
As these kind of movies go, 'Running Scared' is pretty by-the-numbers stuff, enhanced by the chemistry between Hines and Crystal, as well as the latter's skills for both comic timing and ad libbing. There's also a nice reminder of the way they used to make movies 'back in the day', as the film contains a number of big action sequences, including a car chase atop Chicago's elevated train tracks and a movie-ending showdown inside Chicago's James R. Thompson Center (which was brand new when this movie was shot). Of course, there's no CGI or miniatures here – all the stunts are 'practical', which helps add to this movie's appeal.
While 'Running Scared' marks the point where Billy Crystal turned from a TV personality into a full-blown movie star, it's also a good reminder of what Gregory Hines could bring to a role, as well as how much he's missed. It's surprising that a sequel to 'Running Scared' never materialized, although rumors over the years have been that several scripts were pitched, but Crystal and Hines never thought the proposed stories were worthy of the characters. Sadly, Hines died from liver cancer back in 2003, so any chance for an on-screen reunion vanished with his untimely passing.
'Running Scared' is still far from a 'great' film, but it's a good one and a fun reminder of the kind of movies many of us spent our summers going to back in the 80s. The story contains everything you remember about movies back then – lots of action, comedy, big action pieces, and that ever-present soundtrack that would have you going to pick up the album (or cassette!) at National Record Mart after the credits rolled. It's a nice piece of nostalgia, and worth picking up on Blu-ray for that reason alone.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Running Scared' races onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the 25GB Blu-ray, with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers on the disc, whose menu consists of a still of the same image on the box cover, with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Since 'Running Scared' has been released on a single-layer 25GB disc, potential viewers might be worried about compression or other problems with the image. However, thanks to Kino making all the bonus features standard definition (not something I'm necessarily applauding), there's plenty of room for the movie, which clocks in at a bit rate averaging around 24Mbps.
While I can't say the picture here sparkles with detail, I'll give Kino credit for not over-sharpening the image. This 1986 film retains all the grain and grittiness of the original theatrical exhibition, while avoiding any issues with banding, aliasing, or the like. While colors are often muted due to the Chicago locale, scenes that take place in Key West are full of color – proving that the rest of the movie retains the intended look of the filmmakers. There is some dirt and other defects still evident in the print (mostly apparent in the opening credits and in scenes with solid backgrounds), but for the most part the image is remarkably good for a movie rapidly approaching its 30th anniversary with no major restoration work.
Despite the at-times heavy grain, black levels are fairly strong throughout, although some scenes do wind up looking softer than others. The most important thing here, though, is that this film still looks like film, which no doubt fans of the movie will be pleased to hear.
The only option here is a 2.0 English one, but it's provided via a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track. While the track is obviously limited in what it can do, dialogue here is crisp and clear, and the musical soundtrack (both the songs and the score) sounds great without ever drowning out the spoken word. There are no obvious glitches, either, such as any dropouts or hissing in the audio. All in all, this is a pretty good rendition of what the movie sounded like in theaters back in 1986…and perhaps a tad better, thanks to the lossless quality of the track.
In addition to the DTS-HD lossless audio, English subtitles have been provided.
'Running Scared' isn't as good as you probably remember it being, but it's still a solid showcase from early in Billy Crystal's film career and a fun piece of 1980's nostalgia. Thanks to a decent A/V transfer and a few bonus materials (rare for a Kino Lorber release), this one's worth picking up. Recommended.