Busting is a cop show encapsulated, purely episodic in structure as the two vice cop heroes team on various assorted cases, with unstable degrees of success. It's in keeping with the refreshing realism of this period in the film's genre, as it's exceedingly cynical, robustly indicating that crime does pay, and that the biggest criminals in society are dishonest politicians and businessmen who will never be penalized. Were the production not as befuddled and awkward, this rather poorly titled actioner could easily rank among the two French Connections, Bullitt and the Dirty Harry series.
Against an abrasive cityscape of backstreets and littered alleyways, Elliott Gould and Robert Blake star as vagabond vice squad detectives, the type who in actuality set the judicial system back decades. Elliott Gould, the tall one, incessantly chews bubble gum, ambles somewhat hunched and talks in the manner of someone fashioning himself on the star of an Elliott Gould movie, which is awesome. Robert Blake, an unlit cigarette inexplicably hanging from his lips, behaves like a guy who wishes he were tall and realizes he never will be. It doesn't trouble him, though it makes him a bit less compromising than most guys.
Gould and Blake inhabit their work lock, stock and barrel. They consume most of their time apprehending people who are more of a perceived threat to society than a real one: call girls, massage parlor staff and gay bar regulars. It's simply what they do to keep the wheels turning, like road cleaners. It's one of the existential quirks of Busting that when the vice boys do get mixed up in their work, when they find themselves pursuing the Mr. Big accountable for the considerable multi-million-dollar L.A. rackets in addition to the trivial ones, they get thumped, both by the crooks and by their Police Department superiors who may, it would seem, stand for the posture of the society whose protectors they are: The action sooner or later gets around to charging Allen Garfield, cast as a local peer of the realm, with practically all illegal goings-on in town. Garfield, as ever an exceptional actor, brings poise and a sense of being wholly together to the role.
As bemused as the Philip Marlowe Gould interpreted a year before in Altman's brilling Long Goodbye, this 1974 film was the first film by Hyams. His aptitude as a director is more apparent in this film than in any other he's done perhaps, especially in the visual highlights and in the performances. I have an idea that that the qualities of Gould and Blake, instead of the screenplay, are answerable for the distinctness provided the roles. They try a bit too hard for idiosyncrasy and funny habit, nonetheless they're effective at establishing particular characters.
Hyams engineered something of an achievement by crafting a rough cop film sans taking advantage of the right-wing scorn that warns us all to arm ourselves. I.e., it recognizes that when cops and robbers are firing guns at each other in open places, the lookers-on aren't impervious to the bullets. When Gould and Blake chase some heroin pushers through a supermarket in a continuous gunfight, the movie shares the panic of the bystanders to the extent that it does the tension of the pursuit. It's this plane of alertness that secedes this possibly pioneering buddy cop picture from the subsequent second-hand goods in marketeering mockery of the genre that was given that healthy dose of gritty reality in the 1970s, not only by transcendent pictures like The French Connection and classics like Dirty Harry, but even bargains like Busting.