Freebie and The Bean – 4.50 stars

Another of the 70s flicks my Dad took me to when I was probably way too young  I remember being so jazzed at the back-and-forth between the manic Alan Arkin and wisecracking, nattily dressed James Caan, two San Francisco detectives trying to take down a mob boss. To make things cooler for a 9 year old, the violence was hilarious yet brutal, the dialogue scabrous, and the car chases relentless and in great supply.

Would it hold up 50 years later?

Yes, and how. Quentin Tarantino has raved, “nothing short of a masterpiece…absolutely brutal…part of the way the film worked was for you to laugh at the brutal violence and then feel bad about yourself for laughing.”  That is too much praise, but not by much. Caan and Arkin are a scream, very natural, yet way, way out there in terms of chemistry, perhaps riffing before it became standard, but fully committed, never lazy. I remember cracking up with Dad in the theater and after paying $2.36 for the rental on Amazon this weekend, I laughed out loud a half dozen times and smiled throughout.

It’s a strange duck of a picture, a flimsy cynical story giving way to an entertaining buddy cop yarn (clearly echoing The Odd Couple). Director-writer Richard Rush allows for very long takes of Arkin and Caan needling each other and then, there’s absolute chaos, followed by sweet scenes between Caan and his gal and Arkin and his wife. You get the sense that tonally, no one is steering the ship, and Arkin has remarked that he never really knew what kind of movie Rush was trying to make. Still, Rush makes it more seamless than it has a right to be. Good fun through and through, and The Nice Guys owes a lot to this picture.

Also, wildly offensive. For those keeping count, Arkin of European Jewish descent plays Hispanic (he is “the Bean” – get it?), as does Valerie Harper (“Rhoda”). The script is littered with politically-incorrect jibes that would likely result in a campus protest these days, and the treatment of the villain would require the calling in of the National Guard. So, gird your loins.

On Amazon Prime.

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