Freebie and The Bean is often heralded as the first example of the action comedy buddy movie. A movie that did what 48 Hours, the Lethal Weapons, Stakeout and Running Scared perfected in the 80’s. Following the passing of James Caan I thought I would give it a go as it does seem to get middling views. I love a good action comedy buddy movie and wanted to see how successful it was at the careful mixing that so many subsequently failed to get right.
Freebie and The Bean followed a simple but robust plot-line that allows for the cops to have the time for some interesting misadventures whilst the story carries on in the background. The characters are fairly self involved and the plot is almost a sideline whilst they cavort and entertain us with their silliness and ineptitude.
Caan plays Freebie, the more gung ho, action man of the pair; whereas Arkin is Bean, who is less physical and more self involved. They are mismatched, bicker and scrap throughout however, together the two detectives make a functional unit and whilst they blunder through most of the events they manage to get the job done. This, being the 70’s, will adopt some attitudes that are frowned upon today.
Adding to the chaotic nature of the movie is that it is set over Superbowl weekend and the streets are teaming with revellers. Freebie and Bean turn up some evidence that a prolific crook, Meyers, will be assassinated over the weekend and Alex Rocco’s District Attorney challenges the pair to keep Meyers alive over the weekend. Loretta Swit is billed third, playing Meyer’s wife and manages about 2 minutes of screen time, a real shame, however, one scene requires a highly emotional outburst and Swit delivers.
Freebie and The Bean is best described as The Odd Couple mixed with Dirty Harry. There is almost constant chatter between Caan and Arkin as they argue, chat and confide in each other and it proves to be engrossing as they wind each other up. The laughs do flow and the action is satisfying as Caan and Arkin ineptly rampage across the city. There are car and motorcycle chases, punch ups and shoot em ups aplenty. Worth mentioning that the car chases are entertaining, if a little standard of the genre and time period. Shadows in an Empty Room is my new benchmark for car chases and this doesn’t surpass it.
One criticism I can find is that there is no reason given for Freebie or Bean’s peculiar nicknames. On the one hand this might have given them something to work with on a sequel or prequel if they had made one or the short lived TV series that followed with Hector Elizondo and Tom Mason. We are not treated to finding out the real names of the pair in the film.
Some of the chatter beautifully fills out the characters, one can pick up as much as they need and the script does not spoon feed the audience. For instance Freebie would be satisfied with a move to Vice Squad whereas Arkin’s Bean wants to make it to Lieutenant. However, detective skills come slowly as they are just so preoccupied with their capers that they aren’t focused on the job at hand.
The constant bickering and chatter between the two leads can be a bit much at times and there are scenes that can drag. Whilst it can’t be described as a subplot, the storyline of Bean’s wife’s possible infidelity becomes annoyingly distracting for the audience alongside the detectives. I initially found my attention drifting as I waited to get back on track with the film’s main storyline. Certainly, the takeaway is that Freebie and Bean’s detective skills are so to poor to work that out correctly. It does, however, give us some terrific moments with Valeria Harper for which she would be nominated for a Golden Globe.
Of all the movies that have tried this genre, the Harrision Ford, Josh Hartnett vehicle Hollywood Homicide comes closest. Two cops attempting to juggle the job with the responsibilities outside of the department, prattling on about this and that to each other whilst working a case.
Freebie and The Bean isn’t the easiest movie to get on with. Anyone coming to it expecting the polished action of Bad Boys or wit of The Last Boy Scout will leave underwhelmed. However, as a timepiece it works. As the first action comedy buddy movie, it’s impressive and works well. As with most original concepts it has been improved on and should really be seen by anyone who is a fan of the genre.
Over the years there has been a slew of differing artwork, some capitalising on the screwball antics of Caan and Arkin, and some that make it seem like a straight up action flick. One poster features Caan in a Viva T-shirt and the cops wielding dual pistols, recalling the most glaringly violent moment in the movie.