Peter Hyams is a writer/director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work that has a certain verboten sizzle viewed from a distance in 2021.
Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield); this is the early 70’s, so we’re well aware that risking life and limb for a humble $200 a week is an absurd proposition. There’s also a gallery of low-lifes, portrayed without much PC thought or sensitivity; if you want hand-wringing liberal angst about the direction of society, you’d be best to direct your search for entertainment elsewhere.
An early scene in which the cops relish the beating up of various men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous feel is very much what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the hard-bitten police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys.
Hyams supercharges his story with solid freeway action and a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show to an audience of millions on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out in no short order before television, and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.