Saturday, December 9, 2023

#2,939. Busting (1974) - Elliott Gould in the 1970's Triple Feature


Director Peter Hyams has been on my radar for some time. It’s an admiration that stretches back to 1984, when our next-door neighbor took my brother and I to see 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Being kids, neither of us understood it, but our neighbor explained the complexities of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its new sequel, how both related the story of a superior alien race helping earth along its evolutionary path. He told it all in such a way that he had me jonesing to finally sit down and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey in its entirety (which I did, not long after, and I loved it).

Over the next few decades, I would stumble upon more of Hyams’ movies. Outland. Capricorn One. Films I wanted to see before I even knew he had directed them. And yet, when his name flashed on the screen, I was even more excited to watch them. Not all of Hyams’ movies resonated with me. I thought 1997’s The Relic was interesting but flawed, as was 2005’s The Sound of Thunder. But he did turn out what, for me, was Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best film: Timecop.

Hyams made his big-screen directorial debut with the 1974 action / crime / comedy Busting, about a couple of Los Angeles vice squad detectives trying to make a difference. I had never seen this movie before today, but now rank it as one of Peter Hyams’ absolute best.

Also written by Hyams, Busting stars Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as Keneely and Farrel (respectively), two wise-ass vice detectives who, as the movie opens, are following a high-end prostitute (played by Cornelia Sharpe) as she makes her rounds. Posing as a potential John, Keneely busts her. But it turns out this hooker has some friends in very high places, and is back on the street the next day.

Frustrated, the two cops launch an informal investigation, and discover that Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield), a well-respected councilman, is actually the area’s top crime boss. Dabbling in everything from strip clubs to narcotics, and with the police in his back pocket, Rizzo feels invincible. Of course, that only makes Keneely and Farrel more anxious than ever to take him down.

Gould and Blake shine as the perfectly matched detectives, two guys who are good at their job, yet never seem to take it seriously, and seldom play by the rules. While busting the prostitute played by Sharpe in her apartment, they ask for her appointment book. When she pretends not to have one, they begin a “search”, by breaking up the place, shattering lamps and pushing books onto the floor until she coughs it up. It’s a funny scene, made doubly so by the two stars, who play off each other wonderfully.

More than a comedy, however, Busting works as a thrilling crime drama, and has some truly spectacular action sequences. While searching the residence of one of Rizzo’s known accomplices, Keneely and Farrel happen upon a drug swap. Shots are fired, and a chase ensues, which eventually makes its way to a crowded farmer’s market. As terrified patrons hide behind vegetable stands and counters, the two detectives play a game of cat and mouse with the three criminals, all five with their guns drawn, firing at anything that moves. It is a tense scene, made doubly so by Hyams’ crisp direction.

Along with the two leads, Allen Garfield is at his absolute best as the slimy Rizzo, a guy so incredibly confident that you can’t help but admire him a little, and well-known character actors like Sid Haig (as Rizzo’s top henchman), Michael Lerner (as the proprietor of an adult book store / brothel), and Antonio Fargas (as a crossdresser in a gay bar) also shine in brief but memorable roles.

A movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama, with plenty of thrills thrown into the mix, Busting is one of my favorite cinematic discoveries in years.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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