FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (dir. Richard Rush)
By Mike Thompson
At the beginning of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, our two heroes dump a garbage can full of trash into their trunk. They start rooting through it for any kind of evidence, a diamond in a pile of shit. And that's what FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is; a standout movie in the shit pile we know as cop buddy action films.
Freebie and Bean are two detectives who have been working to bust mob boss Red Meyers for the last fourteen months. Now they finally have a bit of evidence and, Monday morning, a witness is coming into town to close the file on this case. But right now it's Friday and Freebie and Bean have just learned that a contract has been taken out on Meyers. It's up to them to keep Meyers alive for the weekend so they can bust his ass Monday morning. What ensues are enough car chases to give the Blues Brothers a run for their money, an excessive amount of police brutality, every racial slur known to man and, as if it weren't obvious, non-stop laughs.
Accentuating his dark features with some make-up, Alan Arkin plays the over-excited Mexican American "Bean" with Valerie Harper (spewing an insanely thick Latina accent) as his wife. James Caan's nickname, "Freebie", comes from his frequent exploitation of his police status. He's constantly working angles for handouts or even downright shoplifting. These two are a menace to society and they aren't really doing a great job of protecting the city either, but who cares?
While the story of two cops trying to stop the bad guys and save the day is predictable at best, the chemistry between Freebie and Bean makes this movie work. They hate each other and yet they love each other. They beat the hell out of each other in a playground. They destroy half the city together (nope, not a cliché this time, they really do destroy it). And when they find out a faceless assassin is coming their way, they blow the hell out of him in a toilet before he has any idea of what's going on.
Of all the things these two do together, it's the car chases that you remember when you walk out. Sure, there have been movies since with unbelievably destructive car chases (most recently RONIN, where director John Frankenheimer holds the camera on the cars continuing to pile up while the chase itself is still further on down the road), but 1974's FREEBIE AND THE BEAN was one of the first. Director Richard Rush literally throws cars into scenes to add to the insanity. And it works, perfectly.
Richard Rush is in complete control of this movie (as he is in just about every movie he makes; see THE STUNT MAN and even COLOR OF NIGHT). He and screenwriter Robert Kaufman keep the movie fun and mean spirited (it was banned in Sweden). The excesses and abuses in the movie end up becoming liberating. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is so un-PC it releases you from the idiotic grip of acting prim and proper. Freebie and Bean are like the dumb and dumber version of Dirty Harry. Two cops with unlimited freedom, sort of doing the right thing, but in the wrong way and for the wrong reason. And yet, they're so appealing and such genuinely believable characters in their frustrations and aspirations that the audience can get behind them all the way.
Even after twenty-five years, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN holds up. Where so many other cop movies feature two partners who hate each other at first and love each other later, this film's partners bicker for the whole feature, and it works because that's the way real friends are. They never reach a point of happiness or contentment, because if they did there'd be nothing exciting about the relationship anymore.
While the car chases are over the top, and the plot itself is almost paper-thin, it's the relationship between these two that holds this movie together. The audience believes in FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and we want to watch them wherever they go. That's probably why there was an attempt to take the characters to television with Tom Mason as Freebie and Hector Elizondo as Bean. Without the vulgarity and violence, however, it was doomed to fail, lasting only one season back in 1980. - Mike Thompson