The 8 Ball 02.26.13: The Top 8 Buddy Cop Teams
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 02.26.2013
From Riggs and Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon films and Men in Black's Agents J and K to Holmes and Watson in Sherlock Holmes, Lee and Carter in Rush Hour and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 buddy cop teams of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Buddy Cop Teams
Good evening, friends and readers; I hope you all enjoyed the Oscars and if you didn't watch that you at least enjoyed the weekend. With award season finally out of the way we're back to our regularly scheduled programming here at 8 Ball headquarters which means that I can get to some topics I've been meaning to look at but didn't get a chance to. One of those was inspired by the latest Die Hard film, A Good Day to Die Hard which bowed a couple of weeks ago. The film was critically panned and has gotten a lackluster reaction from film-goers to say the least. One of the bigger problems with the latest film was its need to go into a territory that it does best in a more vague point of reference: the buddy cop genre. John and Jack McClane are shoehorned into a father-and-son buddy cop team in the movie and while both Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney do a decent job, it just doesn't play as well as they wanted. That got me thinking about the buddy cop teams that we've known and loved throughout the years so I thought this week would be a good one to honor the best team-ups of odd couple partners who have to team up to take down their mutual enemy of some kind.
Caveat: The first thing to keep in mind with this list is that I am not looking at the best buddy cop films, but instead the best teams. Thus, while I may not love all of these films in the same order it was the teaming that was important. This is also why you don't see multiple films from a particular franchise involved. The other thing that I was looking at was whether the pairing adhered to the traditional buddy cop dynamic, which requires not only a mismatched element between them but a fair amount of wit and humor. For example, Mills and Somerset from Se7en could be considered a buddy cop pairing but they are not what I would consider to be a traditional "buddy cop" team; they are instead just two cops who are of different levels of experience and thus have their different perspectives. In addition, they are not exactly an equal pairing and that level playing field is often essential to the buddy cop format as it allows both to learn from each other; there is only one film on my list which has a significant "teacher vs. student" mentality and it largely transcends that. Same thing with Jake Hoyt and Alonzo Harris in Training Day; while they fit some of the elements of the genre, I don't know anyone that would call them a buddy cop team.
Just Missing The Cut
Ivan Danko and Art Ridzik (Red Heat)
John McClane and Zeus Carver (Die Hard with a Vengeance)
Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey (Bad Boys)
#8: Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash (Tango and Cash)
It pains me that this duo couldn't make it higher on the list, because they really are fantastic. Sylvester Stallone is not someone who you would have ever expected to play the good cop in a relationship, and that's why the casting of Kurt Russell was so significant because he was probably one of the few people in the mid-to-late 1980s that would be a better fit as a loose cannon than Sly himself. That allowed Stallone to step into the role of Ray Tango, the smoother and more put-together cop who has to team up with the disheveled mess that is Gabriel Cash to take down crime lord Yves Perret. The film is not the greatest buddy cop film out there to be honest; while there is a lot to enjoy (particularly Jack Palance's scenery-chewing as the bad guy), it's treading on ground that was very familiar by this point and there is a sense of "been there, seen that." However, this is about the team more than the movie and Stallone and Russell are absolutely great as the two cops who hate each other but have to get past that to achieve their common goal. The one-liners are pretty much non-stop as the actors throw wisecracks, zingers and barbs back and forth in-between over the top action scenes. What's not to love about these guys?
#7: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)
Do not let the setting of Guy Ritchie's take on the world's most famous detective throw you; even if this is set in the late 19th century, this is very much a buddy cop film. It contains every element of a buddy cop movie: two protagonists of conflicting personalities--one mild-mannered and by the book, the other eccentric and wilder--who have a lot of personal conflict with each other but nonetheless come together to take on a criminal. Guy Ritchie's direction of the film was rather polarizing and the over-the-top action elements being applied to the great detective turned some people off, but one thing that few could deny was the strength of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law's dynamic as Holmes and Watson. The duo may have sense taken a backseat to the brilliant work of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the same roles on the modern-set BBC series but the film holds up on its own because of how well the two actors play off each other and while Downey's Holmes is certainly off-putting to those around him, there is enough in the actor's portrayal to make him sympathetic so that the audience never gets turned off. The second film had a more lackluster reception due to the overly-convoluted plot but the interplay between Holmes and Watson was just as strong.
#6: Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman (Hot Fuzz)
I hesitated to include these guys for a moment, because as I said I was not including direct spoofs. However, Hot Fuzz is less a buddy cop spoof than it is an homage and there is a fine but distinct line between the two. Hot Fuzz is one of those films that some people find disappointing only because it was Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's follow-up to the instant classic Shaun of the Dead. For me, it's as good as that one but just on a different level. Pegg and Frost are spot on as the supercop and the less-than-supercop who idolizes and learns from him. This film is an homage to most of the other action buddy cop films on this list and there are some great, classic moments here. The plot takes some very fun turns and dips into farcical elements without quite reaching spoof territory; it's a tricky tightrope to walk but it does it quite well. The big showdown at the end is not only funny as hell in its over-the-top execution, it's actually very well-shot from a pure technical action-oriented standpoint. As much as all of that is great though, it really is chemistry between Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman that really makes this work.
#5: Lee and James Carter (Rush Hour)
Okay, so there is one thing you really have to do when thinking about the Rush Hour franchise, and that is pretend that Rush Hour 3 never happened. (On that note: yes, I know the above picture is from Rush Hour 3. The third film, unfortunately, has the best stills.) In fact, I would venture to say that if it were not for that disastrous third entry that Lee and Carter would be higher on the list. Regardless, the only reason why the third film is even remotely watchable is because of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. It is actually kind of surprising that the team of Inspector Lee and Detective Carter works so well; in a lot of ways, Tucker's character can be viewed as an attempt to rip off the characters of Eddie Murphy just so they could see how they pair up with a someone from the Far East. That's why I have so much respect for this team; it could have gone so very wrong considering how poorly it was conceived but Chan and Tucker really roll with it and make it much better than it has any right to be. This is more overtly comedic than many of the buddy cop films, which tend to balance the action and comedy in a more even manner or even lean toward the action. But that works fine for Chan and Tucker, who are used to the comedy aspects. The Rush Hour franchise remains both actors' most successful American films to date and for a very good reason.
#4: K and J (Men in Black)
Not all buddy cop movies feature cops; sometimes they involve shadowy government organizations that cover up the truth about extra-terrestrials. Will Smith has had his fair share of buddy cop-style movies; some have worked well (Bad Boys) while others, not so much (Bad Boys II, Wild Wild West). With Men in Black Smith found his greatest on-screen partner yet in Tommy Lee Jones. Obviously you have the odd couple-pairing in the old white guy with a bit of a drawl against the young, brash, wise-cracking black NYPD officer and there's a lot of humor to be had in that, but it is the pitch-perfect way in which Smith and Jones play off each other that makes it work. A clash of personality can often be difficult to make work, but Smith and Jones are in perfect synch here and know when to time their reactions and lines. The second film was a disappointment largely because the plot took that dynamic away for a good portion of the film; it is J and K that really make the franchise work and the slight screwball elements that exist around them only serves to heighten the fun without going so far as to lose grounding.
#3: Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond (48 Hrs.)
Eddie Murphy is, to some people, the master of the buddy cop dynamic. (Spoiler Alert: this is not his only buddy cop team on this list.) 48 Hrs. is widely considered to be the first of the buddy cop films and it laid the groundwork not only for the genre, but for Murphy's entire 1980s career. The idea was simple: take a prison inmate (Murphy) and pair him with a surly cop (Nick Nolte) with a reason for them to be working together, which in this case is to down the inmate's former partner, who escaped from prison and killed several cops. Nolte and Murphy work great together and their trading of barbs back and forth make most of the movie's enjoyment. As an interesting side note, the film very nearly paired with Clint Eastwood, who was three films into his Dirty Harry run, and Richard Pryor. However, Eastwood decided that he didn't want to play another cop and moved on to make Escape from Alcatraz. Nolte then came in and Murphy joined up soon after. It's a good thing too, because the end result was a great action-comedy that set the stage for a host of imitators both good and bad.
#2: Axel Foley, Billy Rosewood & John Taggart (Beverly Hills Cop)
This is the only buddy cop trio on my list, and for good reason. Establishing the right tone between two actors for a buddy cop team is much harder than it might seem. You can't just create two wildly different personas and toss them together; there is a mix of action sensibilities, camaraderie, realistic chemistry and comic timing that has to be established in order for you to believe the pairing. When you throw a third person into the mix that makes it even more difficult. That's why the pairing of Axel, Billy and Taggart in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise is such an amazing one; there is every reason that it should fail but it not only works, it soars. Eddie Murphy, John Ashton and Judge Reinhold are just about the perfect team and it is their work together that makes the films so good. Axel's fish-out-of-water, Detroit attitude plays well off of the combination Billy's naive, impressionable rookie cop and Taggart's more straight-laced, by-the-book ways. And in fact it was specifically the trio; this is part of the reason that Beverly Hills Cop 3 doesn't work as well because Ashton isn't around to hold up his part in the mix. In the best buddy cop films it really doesn't matter quite as much about the plot or the villains because a big portion of the appeal is seeing the protagonists interact and that was absolutely the case with this trio.
#1: Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon)
Not to sound insulting, but if you didn't assume these guys were number one right off the bat then you may need to go to buddy cop school. I'm somewhat kidding there obviously, but no one can deny that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are the first two guys most people think of when they hear the phrase "buddy cop." Riggs and Murtaugh were not the first buddy cop team by any stretch, but they became the most widely well-known because of the strong characterizations by writer Shane Black and the phenomenal chemistry that Gibson and Glover had. Riggs' mental imbalance was a perfect contrast to Murtaugh's stable, family man attitude and the actors made that contrast a strength of the characters' dynamic as opposed to a flaw. The back-and-forth banter between the two became a highlight of the franchise and in the process we got some of the most memorable scenes and lines in modern action cinema such as "I'm too old for this shit," "Don't let me die on a toilet," Riggs convincing Murtaugh to strip down to his boxers to distract the flamethrower guy in the fourth film and so on. As I said before, these two didn't create the buddy cop formula, but it is hard to deny that they pretty much perfected it.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Nine (1971) Episodes Watched: 593 Last Serial Completed:Day of the Daleks - The Doctor and Jo are sent by UNIT to investigate reports of a ghost appearance in a house where a critical peace conference is being held that could prevent world war. Before long they are plunged ahead 200 years into a future where the Daleks reign supreme over Earth, with a small human resistance with a way to jump back to the past their (and mankind's) only hope for aid. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 36
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.