The film was produced and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Ray Hughes (Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Crystal) are two police officers working on Chicago's North Side, known for their wisecracking demeanors and unorthodox police methods, which get results in their various cases. One such case involves trying to bust up-and-coming drug dealer Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits). After arresting Snake (Joe Pantoliano), one of Julio’s associates, they convince him to wear a wire in order to get the necessary evidence to put Julio away. When they approach the meeting place (a cargo ship) they find that Gonzales has acquired a large store of Israeli Uzi submachine guns. Snake is setting the detectives up, however, prompting the detectives to rush in by acting as though Gonzales was preparing to kill him. Gonzales reveals his ambition to be the next "godfather" of Chicago, but chastises Snake for letting the detectives get close, and Snake is shot dead by a subordinate. The pair look as though they will be killed for sure, but two undercover detectives in Julio’s gang step in to make the arrest. In the ensuing gun battle, most of Julio’s gang escape, but Ray and Danny capture Gonzales.
Back at the station Ray and Danny expect to be praised, but instead their captain (Dan Hedaya) chastises them for their sloppy work (as revealed by Snake’s wire) and orders them to take a vacation. On vacation in Key West, Florida, the pair begin to question their career choice after the experience and decide to retire and open a bar.
When they return to Chicago and inform the captain of their intentions, they find out that Gonzales has been released and is free on bail. Incensed, they vow to capture Gonzales before retiring, but by being a little more careful in the process. To add insult to injury, Captain Logan assigns them the additional task of training their replacements before they go. They must train detectives Anthony Montoya (Jon Gries) and Frank Sigliano (Steven Bauer), none other than the two undercover officers that saved them from being killed in the Gonzales bust. Logan wants the replacements to be "the best of the worst" and orders them never to let him catch them doing anything Ray and Danny teaches them.
During one of the attempts to capture Gonzales, Ray and Danny confiscate a large shipment of cocaine coming from Colombia. In order to get them back, Gonzales kidnaps Danny’s ex-wife Anna (Darlanne Fluegel), whom he still loves and has been trying to reconcile with, and says he will trade her for his drugs, otherwise he will kill her. Danny agrees, leading to the final confrontation inside the high-rise atrium of the James R. Thompson Center. During the ensuing fight, Danny and Ray ironically rescue their would-be protégés in a way similar to their own rescuing, and Gonzales is killed. Anna and Danny reconcile and he and Ray decide not to retire after all.Gregory Hines as Ray Hughes
Billy Crystal as Danny Costanzo
Steven Bauer as Det. Frank Sigliano
Darlanne Fluegel as Anna Costanzo
Joe Pantoliano as Snake
Dan Hedaya as Captain Logan
Jon Gries as Detective Tony Montoya (as Jonathan Gries)
Tracy Reed as Maryann
Jimmy Smits as Julio Gonzales
John DiSanti as Vinnie
Larry Hankin as Ace
Don Calfa as Women’s Room Lawyer
Hyams later recalled:
After 2010 MGM came to me with this script about two elderly cops in New York who retire. I said I wanted to make it about two young cops in Chicago who don’t retire. We went around a bit. There were a lot of cop movies around at that time, so I decided that if I wanted to be interesting I needed to do it with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie. So I wanted Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and I got them and they were wonderful together. They just clicked.
The movie was filmed in 1985.
Running Scared was a moderate box office success, earning over $38 million. Reviews were mixed, however, and the film has a current 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert recommended it, saying that the film “transcends its dreary roots and turns out to be a lot of fun”.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times, however, advised people to "stay home and watch Miami Vice or Cagney and Lacey" instead.
The movie debuted at #5 at the U.S. box office, with a weekend gross of $5,227,757.
The Running Scared soundtrack was released in conjunction with the movie and contained a mix of songs and music featured in the film. The album sold well and produced three top 15 hits with performances by Klymaxx, Michael McDonald, New Edition, and Patti LaBelle. Producer Rod Temperton also contributed two songs with his band The Rod Temperton Beat Wagon.