Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 22, 2017)
A cop flick with a comedic bent, 1974’s Freebie and the Bean takes us to San Francisco. There we meet two local police detectives: Freebie (James Caan) and Bean (Alan Arkin).
The loose-cannon Freebie and the neurotic Bean make an odd couple, but they work well together, and they share one main goal. Both desire the same outcome: the downfall of local crime boss Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen). They work toward this aim and deal with a mix of complications along the way.
I recently watched 1979’s The In-Laws, an Arkin effort that began life as a potential Freebie sequel. Obviously the filmmakers went a different way, but one can see parallels between Arkin’s characters in both.
Because I liked In-Laws a lot, this connection – however tangential – created elevated expectations for Freebie. Does it compare well to the hilarious In-Laws?
No – God no! Freebie stands in gross opposition to the smart, clever In-Laws, as it gives us a consistently crass, ugly affair.
Granted, some of the movie’s flaws come from attitudes of its era. Freebie offers a relentlessly “non-PC” tale, one in which bigoted epithets fly and no one ever displays dismay about this.
Freebie also posits its leads as the dirtiest of dirty cops – and wants us to be okay with that. Freebie is a racist who extorts bystanders and acts in reckless, violent ways – and apparently this is supposed to endear him to us.
Bean isn’t as awful as Freebie, but he’s not that much better, either, especially when the film subjects us to a painfully long – and pointless – sequence in which Bean interrogates his wife due to infidelity suspicions. Freebie and Bean are peas in an angry, brutal pod.
Freebie pushes to such extremes that I occasionally wondered if the filmmakers intended it as some kind of counterculture commentary on the police. Our leads are reckless, arrogant and violent, and they offer more of a threat to the public than the criminals – this must be a parody, right?
Heck, it’s never even clear what threat Meyers presents. The movie focuses on all the mayhem Freebie and Bean create in their pursuit so it comes across like an indication that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
If Freebie does aim to spoof the “obsessed vigilante cop” genre, it does so in an unconvincing manner, and it leaves the impression we’re supposed to genuinely embrace the leads. I don’t, and I find little here to entertain.
Which becomes more of a shock given the actors involved. I like Caan and Arkin, but they lack chemistry, as their contrasting personalities grate more than anything else. I guess we’re supposed to find their bickering amusing in an Oscar and Felix way, but it’s closer to nails on a chalkboard.
All of this leaves Freebie and the Bean as a substantial disappointment. I expected a clever, witty comedy with action overtones but ended up with a crass, mean-spirited piece of nonsense.