Straight cop Benson (Ryan O’Neal) and gay officer Kerwin (John Hurt) are an odd couple who are teamed to solve a series of murders in James Burrows’s “Partners”. boss, Chief Wilkins (Kenneth McMillan) has put the two men together to go undercover as a gay couple to hunt down the person responsible for a series of murders in L.A.’s gay community. The discomfort each feels at first dissolves as Benson relaxes into his role, while Kerwin finds his bliss in domesticity. However, this happiness is short-lived when Benson’s roving eye makes him a target for the killer and only Kerwin’s clear-eyed deductions may prevent his partner from becoming the next victim.
This is one of those cop “buddy” comedy, like so many that were made in the 1980’s, with the exception that here, one of the cops happens to be gay. While some may label this “progress” and such, it’s not difficult to find a dozen or so films that came earlier that were more daring and radical, not to mention better made.
Because the police department is criticized for failing to solve the murder of a gay man, Chief Wilkins puts macho Detective Sergeant Benson) to go undercover with the clichéd gay desk officer, Kerwin. This means that the two will spend the remainder of the film bonding with each other, while tracking down clues about the killer. For the most part, Benson works through his homophobia by uttering homophobic remarks whenever he gets angry and having sex with lots of women, while Kerwin cooks and does the laundry for both of them.
We first realize that this movie is a dud when a dramatic scene comes across funnier that those scenes that are meant to be funny. This is indeed a comedy but the problem is that we laugh at the drama and ignore the comedy. Nothing comes across as intentional and it is all really just boring. It is, however, never intentionally homophobic and not nearly as silly as say, “Another Gay Movie”. It is actually a movie that means well and when we consider that it was released in 1982, we can certainly understand it a bit better.
Now there are some problems—gay Kerwin never ever mentions a boyfriend or ever having ever been in a relationship with another man. Given his age, this is a bit strange. He is actually such a “wimp” that he never defends himself whenever Benson uses a homophobic slur. As such, the relationship that develops between Benson and Kerwin seemed to be somewhat abusive as Kerwin acted more like Benson’s servant than equal partner. The ending, which I will not share here, is weak and certainly does not seem to be aware of the Hays Code having been overturned some twelve years before the movie was released.
The two men adopt their homosexual disguises, which include a lavender Volkswagen, a lavender jogging outfit for Kerwin and lots of tight-fitting jeans and tank tops for Benson, and set up housekeeping in an apartment house favored by homosexuals. Benson forces himself to put up with the passes of aging queens and to play the role of available hustler in an effort to obtain information. Kerwin teaches Benson about being gay, much of which is foreign even to him.
Benson is not comfortable in his role and we constantly sense that he would much rather be somewhere else. He has a hard enough time acting gay and things aren’t helped by the fact that photographer Jill (Robyn Douglass) has caught his eye but has no idea he actually likes women.
Watching the movie now so many years after it was made, shows us that it was definitely made for a certain time period In history and that it would never get made today. It relies heavily on stereotypes and uses slurs that are unacceptable in this day and age but at the same time, surprisingly, the homosexual characters are not regarded or treated as one-note jokes.
So much of the movie is predictable yet it is still entertaining so I am not writing it off—not by any means. Benson learns that gays are people just like us and the entire gay issue is handled very nicely but that does not make it a good movie or a bad movie.