When we think of the Buddy Cop genre, we usually think of the 80’s. You know the genre…a couple of wise-cracking cops who annoy their superiors end up on some big case. These movies were everywhere in the 80’s. But today’s film goes back to 1974, an early example of this sub-genre that would become so prevalent in the years to follow. Directed by Peter Hyams, who also directed one of the quintessential 80’s Buddy Cop films, “Running Scared,” it’s “Busting.”
The film follows two LA vice cops, Keneely (Elliott Gould) and Farrel (Robert Blake). As the film opens, they are working a case involving a high-class prostitute. They follow her on her weekly visit to a dentist’s office, and she ain’t there for a cleaning. After she leaves, they threaten to expose the doctor if he doesn’t give them the girl’s number. They then set up a meeting in a hotel and arrest the girl.
The bust goes off without a hitch, but then their commanding officer calls them into his office, and that’s never good news in a Buddy Cop film. He informs Keneely that he is to testify in court that the girl never actually said what she would do in exchange for payment, which will get the case thrown out for lack of evidence. Turns out that this hooker is an employee of a crime boss called Rizzo (Allen Garfield), who also happens to have city hall in his pocket. Oh, and as a reward for busting the hooker, Keneely and Farrel are assigned to investigate trouble at a local “fruit bar.” They even get hit on by Huggy Bear while they’re there.
When Keneely goes to court, he does what he is told and the prostitute goes free. Next thing we know, our two cops are investigating an adult bookstore that also offers “massages.” They end up bringing in the guy who runs the shop, Marvin (Michael Lerner), and a junkie prostitute (Erin O’Reilly). The boys are anxious to search Marvin’s apartment for drugs, but can’t get a warrant. So, they head there anyway and walk in on a bunch of Rizzo’s men. This leads to a foot chase and shootout through a crowded food market. Eventually they corner some of the men in a building, but two beat cops, on the take for Rizzo, let them get away.
Since these guys keep causing trouble for Rizzo, Keneely and Farrel are now given the job of staking out a public toilet in a city park where there have been reports of “perverts.” But while they spend hours hidden in toilet stalls, our heroes begin to plot how to best take care of Rizzo. They begin to harass Rizzo, showing up everywhere he goes. They even drop in at one of Rizzo’s strip clubs and cause big trouble for one of his goons (Sid Haig). Rizzo is unfazed, however, especially after some of his men beat the two cops to a pulp. But Keneely and Farrel continue what is now a personal vendetta to bring Rizzo’s crime empire crashing down.
Like many Buddy Cop films, “Busting” has an odd mix of wise cracking humor and nasty violence. In the 80’s, the violence often felt more cartoony. This is a 70’s film, and in the 70’s the violence had a bit more gritty feel. But the film doesn’t always succeed in mixing the violence and the comedy effectively. Watching Gould and Blake trade quips in the beginning scenes of the film, I was reminded a bit of another Gould film, “M*A*S*H.” And I’m sure that’s exactly what the producers wanted. Though I enjoyed what Gould did with his role, it was a bit too much of Trapper John from time to time. I found myself much more impressed by Blake’s bleary-eyed approach to his role, but the two actors do play off each other well.
The film does feel a wee bit disjointed in the early stages. It takes awhile for the various segments to come together and produce something resembling a story. But once the focus turns to nabbing Rizzo, the film picks up steam. The ending, however, is a big let down. When our heroes discover Rizzo’s method for picking up his drug shipments, it’s a real groaner. A ridiculous premise more suited to a 70’s sitcom. Luckily, the road we take getting there is a fun ride. The shootout in the market is an especially well-staged scene…creatively filmed and, in the end, quite tense.
Despite some problems, the film is enjoyable, thanks in large part to the interplay between the two leads. I think it’s fair to say that “Busting” didn’t quite perfect the Buddy Cop formula. It did, however, lay a lot of the groundwork.