For what it is - a cop buddy movie - FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is the paragon. Violent action, high comedy, low humor, more car wrecks than a weekend with the Lohans, and something rare in any genre: two hours of genuine sympathy between grown men. Plus Alex Rocco.
Alan Arkin and James Caan play cops in love, an un-ironic friendship displayed with banter and charisma. Mutual appreciation and respect is palpable in every scene. (This is even more impressive in light of Alan Arkin's public denigration of working with Richard Rush and this particular film-making experience generally.) They are aided by a Laurel & Hardy-meet-Lenny Bruce sensibility in the script and direction, which demands the extent of their abilities at the height of their powers. Gifted comedians both, Arkin and Caan invest the technical stuff - timing, delivery, physicality - with real emotion. It doesn't hurt that Robert Kaufman and Floyd Mutrux have given them wonderful things to say, and wonderful situations in which to say them.
Richard Rush uses a lot of carnival music, and this is not his only evidence of carny taste. He likes to titillate, shock and amaze. That's all fine, as far as entertainment goes, but Rush has aspirations. Throughout his career he's made gestures to the absurd and surreal, with mixed results. His movies often seem giddy, his hand showing on purpose, pawing in self-reflexive gesture. This kind of trapeze act doesn't always work. THE STUNTMAN, for all its many virtues, does not pull off 100% of the tricks up its sleeve. Fellini and Fosse had a surer hand for that sort of detail.
This movie aims lower and succeeds at just about every level, though careening on two wheels. The whole film feels just on the edge of out-of-control: the plot, the story, the action, all strain credibility. The cops kill people, destroy public and private property, bicker, donnybrook; the robbers preen, prance and pratfall. The jokes and the violence push the limits of good taste. And the guy on that trials bike isn't even trying to look like James Caan. But it's all part of the cuckoo world of Me Generation Hollywood, show biz kids drunk with power and roaring for approval. You can almost catch a buzz off all the cocaine blowing around the post-hippie pre-yuppie San Francisco set.