Running Scared (1986) – A Review


A review of the 1986 action cop comedy Running Scared starring Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Smits, Dan Hedaya and Joe Pantoliano

Running Scared Billy Crystal Gregory Hines cop movie 1986

Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines are two Chicago cops who are looking to retire. They’re getting a bit tired of dodging bullets from criminals. They want to move to Key West, open a nice little bar and enjoy sunsets with tanned lovely ladies on their arms.

But before their last thirty days as cops are up they want to put away one of Chicago’s most notorious criminals – Julio Gonzales played by Jimmy Smits. So, before they get to enjoying margaritas on the beach there’s plenty of time for the two buddies to engage in car chases, shoot outs and trade light hearted banter as they protect and serve the Windy City.

Running Scared was one of the many cop buddy movies that filled the 1980’s. I think if you were to subtract all the cop buddy movies that came out in the 1980s from the total number of movies that were released the number of films that hit theaters would be cut in half!

We all know the components of the cop buddy genre and Running Scared ticks all the boxes. It’s got the police action, it’s got the comedy it’s got the fun partners, it’s got their screaming police captain, it’s got the bad guy. It all might sound as routine as ever – and it is. There’s nothing unique going on here, but Running Scared manages to make the formula work once again and it ends being entertaining thanks to Crystal, Hines and director Peter Hyams.

Billy Crystal Gregory Hines Running Scared 1986 cop comedy action movieI remember my friends and I going to see Running Scared when it first came out back in 1986. We spent that whole summer day at the multiplex sneaking into one movie after another. The scorecard that day consisted of seeing Stand By Me, then sneaking into Running Scared and ending the day by sneaking into Aliens. And we loved all of them.

I have fond memories of how entertaining summer movies were once upon a time. And also how the season could be such a diverse grab bag of offerings compared to today. Today’s summer movie season doesn’t hold a candle to what it used to be. Yeah, I know, I sound like a an old grouch complaining, “When I was young…..blah blah blah….”. But I still watch a lot of the flicks from that summer thirty years later! They still hold up and are just as entertaining! I wonder if anyone will say the same about the current summer offerings in thirty years time.

One of the most important things in cop buddy movies is the chemistry between the leads. Even back then we thought Crystal and Hines together was an extremely odd, unexpected pairing, but somehow it works! I have no idea how Hyams ever thought that those two would click together in this, but they do.

Running Scared 1986 Billy Crystal Gregory Hines Dan HedayaThey’re funny, they pal around, they pass non sequitur and shorthand dialogue between each other that confuses everyone else. I buy these two as buddies. They’re surprisingly good together. Still, even thirty years later watching this movie again, I’m still amazed at how much I enjoy them together. I would never have predicted them to be such a fun duo.

Smits is the bad drug dealer who is preparing to become the big underwood king in the city. This was Smits’ first movie. When they think of Smits most people probably think of those Star Wars movies or NYPD Blue. But ever since seeing him play the baddie Gonzales in Running Scared it’s always the role I first associate with him. He plays a pretty good unlikable bad guy in this.

Running Scared 1986 movie Billy Crystal Gregory Hines

So Danny (Crystal) and Ray (Hines) arrest Gonzales, but are almost killed in the process. They’re forced to take a vacation by their prickly captain Dan Hedaya. The two leave for Key West and fall in love with the place thanks to a nifty 80’s music montage. They now have dreams of quitting their cop jobs, opening a bar and never having to wear long underwear again.

When they return to Chicago they learn that Gonzales made bail and is once again on the loose. Not only are they focused on catching the bad guy, but they also have to train two younger cops to replace them. And Danny and Ray don’t like them very much.

Running Scared 1986 cop comedyMaybe it’s me, but there’s something about movies back during this time where they were able to create a much more authentic feeling setting.

The Chicago locations give the movie a real personality. It’s cold, it’s dirty, the guys are bundled up, the police station is messy, smokey, cluttered. There’s a real atmosphere that’s created.

I don’t know how it is that more movies felt a bit more authentic and real looking than movies made today. Maybe it was more location shooting or how they were photographed, but there’s so much more flavor. There’s nothing crisp or clean looking about the beat these guys are working. It’s not surprising why the guys are eyeballing Key West.

Running Scared 1986 cop movie car chase scene trainWhile they’re bouncing wisecracks between each other, threatening street thugs, arguing which one of them shot the bad guy and having a grand time doing funny Miranda rights jokes (“You have the right to remain DEAD. Anything you do will be used against you. You have the right to a CORONER. If you cannot afford one, we will appoint a medical examiner for you.”) the boys get into some action – and it’s pretty good.

The big action set piece is the car chase as the boys chase Gonzales onto the Chicago El. It’s a really good chase, exciting, has some good stunts, it’s really well put together. I’m not exactly sure that any car wouldn’t fall to pieces a few minutes into it, but it doesn’t matter. You need some outrageousness in your cop buddy movie!

It’s a real thrilling scene. There’s also some comedy to it with a scared priest and nun in the backseat that allows plenty of shocked reaction shots and Crystal to crack jokes to. “Hey father, you and your wife owe me 28.50.”

Billy Crystal Running Scared 1986 cop comedyThat’s one thing about the movie, it does a pretty good job of balancing the action and humor. They can get into a humorous stand off one minute making you laugh and then quickly it can turn into a dangerous shoot out.

There’s one shorter scene I always liked when the guys’ car is picked up by a garbage truck. It turns into a pretty tense scene as Gonzales threatens them. Naturally the guys are bickering the whole time.

There’s of course a bit of romance for the guys. Hines romances with Tracey Reed and plays some dirty tricks on her boyfriend to push him out of the picture. Crystal is still somewhat hung up with his ex-wife played by Darlenne Flugel. She ends up in the crosshairs of the boys’ battle with Gonzales by getting kidnapped and them having to try to save her for the big climax. Guess what happens during that.

The romance stuff is very secondary. It’s the kind of tacked on subplot you don’t really care about and takes a far backseat to watching them doing their outrageous police work. It’s much more lively when the movie sticks with them getting into both comical and dangerous run ins with hoods.

It’s a really fun movie. Crystal and Hines are great together and both very funny. Hyams even manages to get Crystal to do some funny voices in here too. Theres some good supporting actors that pop up like Smits, Hedaya, Larry Hankin and Joe Pantoliano as a goofy red-haired criminal called Snake. “How did you get a name like Snake anyway? Whaddaya, got a long weewee?” And action fans should be satisfied with what unfolds.

Gregory Hines Billy Crystal Running Scared 1986 movieAdmittedly, there’s nothing groundbreaking going on here. It’s that standard ‘Cop Buddy Blueprint’ that got used over and over again. The movie doesn’t have any aspirations to break the mold, it just wants to be an entertaining romp and it succeeds.

If it does anything, Running Scared shows it’s the execution of the formula that really matters. I’ve always liked this flick and think it’s one of the better in the genre. It’s a bit underrated in a way.

I recall reading a few blurbs in the pre-internet rumor mill days of a potential sequel that was to be called ‘Still Running’. My friends and I were all psyched for that. We pictured Crystal and Hines in Key West getting into cop buddy action in that sunny locale. Alas that never happened.

If it had maybe Running Scared would be a bit more celebrated today. It seems like it has fallen into the cracks a bit and isn’t as popular as it probably should be. It’s still as much fun as when I first saw it.


The chase scene from Running Scared – really good!


The music video that was a requirement for all movies to have back in the day – Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald and of course Crystal and Hines show up!

1 thought on “Running Scared (1986) – A Review

  1. They steal Smits’ limo to draw him out – and remember this guy is supposed to be a dangerous drug dealer. But to shoehorn in the movie’s soundtrack they stick in a cassette and start playing “Man Sized Love” as they drive all over town. I remember the manager of the video store where I worked seeing that and saying “Yeah, right- Hispanic drug dealer listenes to Klymaxx. Sure he does.”

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