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Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst Buddy-Cop Movies

They’re partners. They’re friends (sometimes). They bust the criminals while busting each other’s balls. The buddy-cop formula is a reliable staple of Hollywood’s output. This week, Kevin Hart and Ice Cube give it a shot in ‘Ride Along’. Something tells me that this one isn’t destined to be a classic. Nevertheless, it has inspired today’s Roundtable, in which we take a look at some of the highs and lows of the genre.

Mike Attebery

This is probably too easy, but I still think that Riggs and Murtaugh are a great buddy-cop duo. And I’ll go further. While part 3 is terrible, I think even 4 is worth a ‘Lethal Weapon‘ fan’s time. Just try to tune out Chris Rock (at the height of his “Why can’t I stop smiiiiiiiiling in front of the camera” worst).

Speaking of worst, there’s ‘Showtime‘ with Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy. I suggested going to see this movie in the theater, and 12 years later, my wife still hasn’t let me hear the end of it. A bad, BAD movie.

M. Enois Duarte

It may not necessarily be the best buddy-cop movie (that honor belongs to ‘Lethal Weapon’), but to me, ‘Rush Hour‘ falls pretty high on the list. Jackie Chan was already an established action star with lots of screen charisma, so his appearance in this Brett Ratner-helmed movie was an awesome plus. Chris Tucker, on the other hand, had much to prove, but actually does a great job as the loudmouthed, clumsy detective.

When we’re talking the worst of this genre, I can’t think of anything as godawful as ‘Theodore Rex‘. In this alternate future where dinosaurs live alongside humans, tough cop Whoopi Goldberg is paired with an unfunny, wisecracking T. Rex and together hunt down a killer. Imagine the awfulness of ‘Turner & Hooch’, ‘K-9′ and ‘Cop and a Half’ mixed with the worst of ’90s kitsch and pop-culture, and you have this absolute disaster of unpleasantness.

Brian Hoss

Best: It’s so tempting to pick Tony Scott’s ‘The Last Boyscout’, but instead I’ll go with ‘Shoot to Kill‘ from 1988. Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Andrew Robinson and even Kirstie Alley somehow manage to make a taut thriller out of what could easily been a wintery ‘Summer Camp’ type situation. This movie does well with a light amount of gunplay and some basic wilderness climbing, and I can only imagine if it had been made in the past twenty years how many explosions would be required. Poitier lends a deft touch to his role as a city-dwelling FBI agent struggling in the outdoors. The scene where the two heroes cross a canyon is one of the movie’s many gems.

Worst: There are way too many unwatchably bad buddy-cop movies. The main problem is that pairing two actors/characters together to be both funny and action-packed is tougher than most realize. Then we have ‘Double Impact‘, which foregoes any kind of intriguing oil-and-water pairing by simply having Jean-Claude Van Damme play both roles. The entire “You’re different from me so we don’t get along, but then later we do” dynamic is both terrible and hilarious when applied to Van Damme and Van Damme in different roles. That they aren’t cops doesn’t really matter, which is the stupid beauty of doubling up the chameleon-like Van Damme, who could be anyone anywhere just as long as he is still Van Damme.

Junie Ray

For me, ‘The Killer‘ is the definitive Hong Kong action / buddy-cop movie, and is a glorious thrill ride of both genres. Also in a similar vein would be ‘Bullet to the Head’ or ‘Hard Boiled’.

My pick for worst would be Kevin Klein and Will Smith in ‘Wild Wild West‘. It’s a sad take on a great TV show.

Luke Hickman

Best: Not only does ‘Last Action Hero‘ make the best of the buddy-cop dichotomy, but it adds a fantasy element that will make any movie-loving kid giddy with excitement. I was 13 when it opened. I remember riding the bus to the closest Cinemark (about ten miles away) and seeing the very first showing. I think the matinee ticket cost was around $3.25 and the showing started around 10:30 AM. Already being a movie geek and having movie-based imagination, the premise was something that I would frequently daydream about: What would happen if I was sucked into the world of a specific movie? The way that the first half plays out is straight out of my 13-year-old mind. What I didn’t see coming was the second half, something that I’d never contemplated: What would happen if my favorite movie heroes were sucked off the screen and placed into our world? Twenty years later, ‘Last Action Hero’ still holds up. It’s just as fun and playful for me now as it was then.

Worst: ‘Cop Out‘. What the hell happened to Kevin Smith? I used to praise the guy. I watched all umpteen hours of his “Special Evening” events. But now I can’t stand him. I see the spots for his TV series ‘Comic Book Men’ and groan at the sight of him. Watching ‘Cop Out’, I immediately realized that it was giant piece of crap. Everything that I liked about Smith was gone. Bruce Willis seems self-loathing through the entire picture, phoning in his performance. Tracy Morgan acts like typical Tracy Morgan, adding nothing to the picture and being a nuisance. The jokes aren’t funny. The story sucks. The music is bloody wretched. I wouldn’t watch ‘Cop Out’ again even if it resulted in Kevin Smith returning to his former glory. I can go back and watch his great films any time, but I can never un-watch that turd again.

Josh Zyber

Best: After a couple years of hating Channing Tatum, ‘21 Jump Street‘ was the movie that turned me completely around on the actor. He loosened up considerably in that one, and has great chemistry with partner Jonah Hill (another star I had no great love for). The movie is tremendously entertaining and funny, and pokes fun at both its source material and the genre in a loving fashion (as opposed to the likes of, say, the disdainful ‘Starsky & Hutch’ movie). I hope the sequel can live up to it.

Honorable mentions to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in ‘Hot Fuzz’, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in ‘The Other Guys’, and Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in ‘Police Story 3: Supercop’ (the best entry in that series).

Worst: Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Rain‘ was a box office dud back in 1989, but somehow garnered a reputation on home video as an underrated gem. It’s really no such thing. Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play a pair of racist dickweeds from New York City who travel to Japan for a prisoner extradition, then stick around to take down the Yakuza and show all the incompetent Japanese police how real cops get things done. Along the way, Garcia loses his head and Douglas falls in love with the only white woman he meets in the country. Despite the exotic setting and Scott’s sleek visual style (which depicts the city of Osaka as an almost ‘Blade Runner’-like dystopian metropolis), the movie is extraordinarily ridiculous and cheesy, with the 45-year-old Douglas (sporting the exact same mullet that Mel Gibson had in the first ‘Lethal Weapon’) riding motorcycles and kicking ass in a bid to pass as a relevant action hero for the ’80s. The film is also rather culturally insensitive, to say the least.

Tell us in the Comments about your favorite (and least favorite) buddy-cop movies.

41 comments

  1. One buddy flick often overlooked is ‘Freebie and the Bean’. While it is silly at times and has some overly destructive chase scenes, the performances of James Caan and Alan Arkin are outstanding, and their chemistry is wonderful. They are so much fun to watch. (I disagree with Josh’s opinion of Black Rain. I think it is a fantastic film.)

  2. Jaimie Max

    I love buddy cop action genre, I’ll go with Lethal Weapon 2 and 48 Hrs. in the best category.

    I disagree with Mike and Josh, I thought Lethal Weapon 3 was good, 4 was not and I thought Black Rain was pretty good too. Yeah Black Rain might be a bit racist, especially in our overly PC sensitive world today but it’s still an entertaining action thriller.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I was really stoked to see Lethal Weapon 3 when it came out, and couldn’t believe how bad it turned out to be. Never bothered to watch Lethal Weapon 4.

      Black Rain was plenty racist even back in 1989.

      • Jaimie Max

        Well if you thought Lethal Weapon 3 was bad, I recommend you stay away from part 4 and that one was pretty racist towards Asians, more so than Black Rain.

        As Chris already asked you below, which part in Black Rain did you find it to be so racist? Maybe I’m stupid but I just didn’t find it to be that offensive.

        • hurin

          The pert whe’re they lose the prisoner at the airport is racist. It depicts a white police officer as being dumb and gullible.

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          One of the main themes of Black Rain is that all the Japanese police are stuffy uptight “suits” (Douglas’ favorite word) who have no idea what it really takes to bust the bad guys. A couple of American badasses have to tear through their country with guns blazing to show them how it’s done. All of the Japanese characters in the movie are either evil or ineffectual.

          Douglas’ character is a straight-up racist. That much is intentional. Although the movie makes some token gestures of having him learn life lessons about the importance of racial harmony and tolerance, they fall completely flat. Ultimately, the white guy is proven right and saves the day. The Japanese cops would be useless without him.

          In the late ’80s and early ’90s, many Americans had xenophobic fears that Japan was on the verge of taking over the world economically and culturally. You see that reflected in movies like this or Gung Ho (which made fun of it), or the Michael Crichton novel Rising Sun. Of course, in the real world, more than 20 years of economic recession proved that notion completely false. These days, we see the same thing about China.

      • hurin

        Black Rain wasn’t racist. Just as with Forrest Gumb you’re seeing things that simply aren’t there.

  3. Chris

    Black Rain is an admitted guilty pleasure of mine, saw it for the first a few weeks ago actually and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t aged well at all though and some moments decend into pure 80′s cheese (like the cringe-inducing duet in the karaoke bar, or the awkward scene near the opening when Douglas and Garcia ride double on the same motorcycle…awkward). Without a doubt the highlight of the movie is the visuals, style over substance…but a pleasant distraction nonetheless.

  4. Elizabeth

    I want to go with I, Robot or MIB3 for best. I’m sure there are better ones but those are the ones that immediately popped into my head. Or maybe the latest Dredd movie because that was pretty awesome.

    For worst, I’m picking the Seth Rogan version of The Green Hornet. After seeing that film, I will never willingly watch a movie starring Seth Rogan again. Ever.

    • Chaz

      Well if you dont like Rogan’s sense of humor I could understand, but I love Rogan and wont bother watching the Green Hornet again, so dont let that turn you off to stuff like This is the End, that movie is hilarious :)

  5. Chris

    Josh Z,
    Not to “beat a dead horse” or anything, but I’m actually really curious to know what aspects/scenes in particular of Black Rain you found racist or culturally insensitive? I agree it’s not a very complex or nuanced portrayal of Japan, but I didn’t find it to be offensive…

  6. “Last Action Hero”, Luke? No way. What are the odds: I bought the Japanese LaserDisc just yesterday! I loved it as a kid, and I’m curious to see if it holds up. I didn’t know the concept of postmodernism back then, but I remember laughing at (and understanding) the quips aimed at the movie industry. Stallone as The Terminator, genius!

    • Chaz

      Loved Last Action Hero, its a shame it got blasted by Jurassic Park when it came out because its much better than people remember, IF they even saw it, but I do have a couple of friends who just dont like it at all and I never could figure out why, its funny, smartly written and action packed, just like most of Arnold’s movies back then :)

  7. Chris

    Although I’m not sure if this actually qualifies as buddy-cop movie, I’ll always have a soft spot for the John Badham directed action-comedy “The Hard Way” starring James Woods and Michael J. Fox. Woods plays a high strung New York City homicide detective on the trail of a serial killer, who’s investigation is put on hold when a spoiled actor (Fox) is assigned to ride along with him for a few days in an attempt to get into character for an upcoming movie role.

    The two actors have great chemistry together and deliver lots of laughs, there’s some thrilling action sequences and a truly memorable villain. If you’ve never seen it, it’s absolutley worth checking out.

  8. Paul A

    I’ll throw out a couple of standard “buddy cop” films that I enjoy…Bad Boys and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. I still get a kick out of watching those two.

    I feel I also need to mention the film that stood the “buddy cop” theme on it’s side and kind of changed cop films forever…Se7en. Just had to mention that masterpiece.

  9. ColinJ

    COP OUT is possibly the most flat, boring and unfunny ‘action/comedy’ ever released by a major studio.

  10. shawn

    My favorite is Stakeout and Another Stakeout. Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are really funny and have a great banter between them. I wish they made more then the two films.

  11. Tom Tuttle

    The Hidden. Michael Nouri is the straight cop against Kyle MacLachland’s offbeat FBI agent, hunting a body snatching alien.
    Danny Trejo has a blink-and-you-will-miss-it part too. Enough said, go dig it up!

  12. Chris

    Well in their defense, those Yakuza dudes WERE pretty convincing. I mean they had all the right paperwork and they certainly looked official and everything….then again I AM white!

    The funny thing is I watched that movie with my wife (who is Malaysian), and she totally saw the trick coming. I was like “no no, these Japanese guys seem legit! everything’s fine…) Hahaha

  13. Lots of love for the first two Lethal Weapon flicks, but Hot Fuzz has gotta be my pick. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg play off each other so well, and the movie pokes fun at every action film stereotype while executing them flawlessly.
    Also 48 Hours is a great one.

  14. Scott Hunvald

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the rock. Nick Cage and Sean Connery are great together. Connery “Your best, losers always whine about their best, winners go home and *%#^ the prom queen.” Cage “Carla was the prom queen”

    I also like the last Boy Scout, as far as least favorite go, I’ll have to go with 15 Minutes and another de Niro film, show time.

  15. Chris

    The whole point of Michael Douglas’ character being an ignorant hothead and some would even say “racist” is to show how his attitude and approach doesn’t work. The screenwriters go out of their way (and probably overboard) to make his character a hard-headed jerk for the first half of the film. It’s this sort of cocky, full-of-bravado attitude that leads to the death of his partner which becomes the turning point of the film. The point at which he realizes him and his partner have underestimated the threat they are facing. It’s only after he learns to shut his mouth and listen to his calmer, wiser and more professional Japanese colleague that he has a chance against Sato.

    As far as all the Japanese people being portrayed as ineffectual, they are simply more by-the-book and more restrained than Douglas and Garcia. This sort of disparity is illustrated in a similar fashion in Beverly Hills Cop, a tough street-wise detective from inner city Detroit vs. the uptight, procedure-obsessed officers from the uber rich area of Los Angeles. As for a number of the Japanese being portrayed as evil, they’re the villains! They’re supposed to be ruthless, menacing bad guys. If they weren’t, there would be no tension or drama.

    As for the any supposed sociological subtext about fears of Asian dominance etc. all I can say is that didn’t come through to me at all, I took it as a fairly entertaing cop thriller with some nice visuals and a memorable bad guy. Maybe it’s because I was quite young when it was originally released and don’t have the best awareness of the political climate in 1989, or maybe you are reading too much into any supposed subtext that may or may not be present…arguments could most likely be made for both sides. At any rate, I’ve seen far better movies and far worse than Black Rain I appreciate you responding to my post….cheers.

  16. Kyle

    Some of my favourites would have to be “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”, “Training Day”, “Hot Fuzz” and “Se7en”.