Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal) are two Chicago cops who are forever lamenting how their lot in life could be better, after all who appreciates them? Take today when they are standing about in the freezing December cold awaiting some kind of sign that they are ready to make a case against a drug baron, and in the meantime opt to play basketball with some young men which ends with Danny getting punched in the face. He doesn't feel like whipping out his badge, and besides they notice their quarry Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits) pulling up in a Mercedes - wasn't he supposed to be in custody?
Some would say the formula for buddy cop movies was perfected in the eighties, and every try at it since has been harking back to its heyday in the hope that their popularity can be recreated with modern audiences. But it was true those audiences by the end of that decade were somewhat fatigued by the sheer number of entries in the genre, which left even the best of them looking samey: you knew what to expect with these, the goodnatured banter, the comedy insults, the plot interrupted for an action sequence, the female lead very much a third wheel to the relationship between the two men. There were variations, but by the time 1990 came along regular moviegoers could have probably written their own.
Running Scared was certainly nothing new in that style, but now it seemed a lot easier to take as an item of nostalgia, much in the way its spin-off video featuring Michael McDonald singing Sweet Freedom was, a video where the two stars joined in with the singer for a prime slice of eighties cheese. You could simply watch that and get the measure of the movie, but if you had a little longer to spare this turned out to be skillfully made, with Peter Hyams by this time a sure hand at the helm and the interplay between Hines and Crystal effortlessly bringing out the laughs, nothing fall down hilarious, but you did appreciate watching them interact with one another because they genuinely appeared to enjoy their company.
As would you, even if the finer details of the plot were somewhat muffled by the emphasis on the chummier elements. That starts with them arresting one of Gonzales' goons, who goes by the name of Snake (Joe Pantoliano) and is carrying with him a briefcase packed with fifty thousand dollars which alerts the cops' suspicions. He insists he's innocent, but they're not buying it, and besides they need an excuse to bring Gonzales in so if that really is drug money what better reason than this? It wouldn't be a buddy movie without some kind of bungling to show their human side, so these two are not some monolithic fighting machine but all too fallible, not that they come across as especially bothered one way or the other for the most part.
To illustrate, there's even a spell about halfway through the movie where the easygoing levels get turned up to maximum and they decide to take a break from all these gangsters and bullets, so head off to Florida for a vacation, hanging out in a loud wardrobe with some nubile young ladies and making up their minds to retire from the force run a bar there - it's here the inevitable montage set to Michael McDonald enters into the picture. They do return to chilly Chicago after a while, though you get the impression that if they did indeed forget about bringing in the bad guys and spend the rest of the film relaxing with a pina colada in one hand and a bikini-clad lovely in the other they would be content, and you might be too. But there has been a dearth of action sequences up to that point, so Hyams put into play an excellent one to pump up the adrenaline where the cops drive along a railway track through the city after Gonzales. As expected, love interests Darlanne Fluegel and Tracy Reed are truly disposable, and it's the male bonding that counts. Music by Rod Temperton.