Big, burly Wilbur Walsh (Bud Spencer) is looking for work on the docks in Miami, but all he gets is grief from local mob enforcers. Being superhumanly strong, he beats the bad guys to a pulp then smashes a sledgehammer into their expensive automobile. Shortly thereafter, stowaway Matt Kirby (Terence Hill) arrives on the scene also in need of a job, only to run into the same bunch of bullies. It just isn’t the mobsters’ lucky day because wiry Matt proves equally tough. After kicking their collective asses, he takes a forklift truck to trash their new car. Matt and Wilbur meet up and bond after turning the tables, yet again, on the gun-toting gangsters. Desperately low on cash, the pair hatch a plan to rob the nearest supermarket, only bumble into a police station instead. So the boys promptly sign up and join the force as motorcycle cops under the ball-busting Captain McBride (David Huddleston). It’s all part of Matt’s brilliant plan to set out and be the worst cops possible, get fired, then collect their severance pay. Of course, things don’t quite work out that way.
Terence Hill and Bud Spencer - real names: Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli - were a couple of amiable Italian actors who had modest success on their own, but really took off when paired together. First in the “straight” spaghetti western God Forgives... I Don’t! (1967) wherein Hill played a gunslinger called Cat Stevens and which spawned the sequels Ace High (1968) co-starring Eli Wallach and Boot Hill (1969), then in the knockabout comedy smash They Call Me Trinity (1970). Though reviled by so-called “serious” spaghetti western fans, Trinity and its subsequent sequels and inevitable rip-offs were huge international hits that propelled the careers of not only Hill and Spencer, but also cinematographer-turned-director Enzo Barboni under his pseudonym: E.B. Clutcher. He stuck with the team well into the late Eighties, though later tried to resurrect the Trinity franchise with two new actors in Sons of Trinity (1995). Other notable Italian directors continued cranking out comedy hits with Hill and Spencer well into the new millennium when their international stardom dimmed but their European fanbase proved loyal as ever.
By the late Seventies, Hollywood took notice. Hill got his chance to headline two big American movies, March or Die and Mr. Billion, while Warner Bros. invested money in Crime Busters, an Italian co-production that ironically proved a far bigger hit. This was the first of an increasingly grandiose run of Hill/Spencer vehicles, shot on location in Miami although the interiors were filmed in Rome. Barboni sticks rigidly to the formula he established with the Trinity films. Hill plays a feisty, fast-talking wiseguy with a heart of gold, Spencer is surly and strong as Hercules, hiding his amiability beneath outward bluster. Like two overgrown kids, the stars spend two thirds of the film playing pranks on each other with wisecracks that border on the surreal (Hill repeatedly calls Spencer “you big banana”) suggesting something got slightly lost in translation. Episodic and far too leisurely, the film trades largely on the charisma of its stars along with the fights, car crashes and stunts that are energetic and choreographed with acrobatic flair. It is a style of comedy, Hollywood later co-opted wholesale for knockabout romps like Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Every Which Way But Loose (1978).
After an hour of slapstick misadventure, the plot finally kicks in once Matt discovers a Chinese immigrant who once helped him out has been murdered. He also strikes up a romance with the dead man’s niece, played by none other than Laura Gemser, star of Emanuelle in America (1977) and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977). See? She did make a movie where she kept her clothes on. Her family are among those broad caricatures that behave like holdovers from the Ming Dynasty, speaking in sub-Confucian proverbs and addressing their elder as “honorable grandfather.” Has anyone ever met any Chinese people who really talk like this? Anyway, our heroes discover their dead friend was forced to smuggle drugs hidden in Chinese dolls for the friendly neighborhood mobsters. Mob boss Curly (Luciano Catenacci) sends two beautiful blonde sisters, Angie (April Clough) and Galina (Jill Flanter), posing as Russian royalty to distract Wilbur and Matt, but the boys turn the tables on the temptresses and smash the drugs ring.
Italian films set in the United States often have an eccentric view of the nation wavering between the satirical and the insulting. Over the course of their misadventures, our heroes meet two brothers eager to sell their dead father’s corpse to a medical college, lock wits with a street gang who all wear red masks led by a whip-wielding gay delinquent, and play a lethal game of American football against another gang dressed like the Village People led by a faux Native American named Geronimo (Luciano Rossi). “Remember the Alamo!” he absurdly cries before leading the charge. Whereas heroes in American movies typically lend their strength and skill to a philanthropic cause, Italian pastiche westerns and action comedies often focus on antiheroes who survive by their wits. In the case of Crime Busters, the main joke appears to be that Italian working class rogues like Matt and Wilbur do a better job keeping the streets safe than the square-jawed, gun-toting American cops. Equally however, the film has an amiable theme about downtrodden folks banding together against oppressors, a message that is very American. Which may be the reason why, although Hill and Spencer made much better films, Crime Busters is the most widely known, stateside. The dynamic duo returned to clean-up the sunshine state capital in Miami Super Cops (1985).