It’s been used and abused so many times that by all rights, it should have been exhausted of fresh possibilities long ago — but the buddy cop comedy is alive and well, as evidenced by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s return for more wisecracking gunplay in this weekend’s 22 Jump Street. In honor of the genre’s latest freshly chambered round, we decided to take a look back at some of the more successful quippin’ ‘n’ shootin’ duos from precincts past. Shoulder those holsters, because it’s time for Total Recall!
The Buddy Cops: It’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) who’s shown on the poster and described in the title, but his classic debut would have seemed pretty lonely without the involvement of his Beverly Hills buddies Detective Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sergeant Taggart (John Ashton).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Foley’s such a pain in the neck, he triggers high-volume outbursts from superiors in two places: As the movie opens in Detroit, he’s getting an earful from his inspector (Gil Hill), and when he follows an investigation to Beverly Hills, he runs similarly afoul of Beverly Hills PD Lieutenant Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox).
Saving the Day: Foley spends a substantial portion of the movie keeping Rosewood and Taggart from figuring out what he’s up to, but the trio put their heads together just in time to take down ruthless smuggler Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff) — and lay the groundwork for a series of sequels that seems likely to continue with Beverly Hills Cop IV in 2016. The follow-ups have made their share of cash, but there’s nothing like the original; as R.L. Shaffer wrote for IGN, “Simply put, Beverly Hills Cop is one of the best buddy cop movies ever made.”
The Buddy Cops: Irish police Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) and FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Actually, Boyle pretty much punches his own ticket in his little burg; he’s got enough respect and seniority to do more or less whatever he likes, including indulging in illegal activities while he’s on duty. The Guard‘s tension lies between Boyle’s blasé attitude and Everett’s by-the-book approach — a conflict as old as the genre, to be sure, but one enlivened here by the movie’s change of setting.
Saving the Day: From the moment Everett and Boyle clash, you know they’re going to develop a begrudging respect, just as surely as you know a change is gonna come for the depressingly corrupt rural police district that Boyle calls home. But it doesn’t matter, because writer/director John Michael McDonagh has penned such a smart, tightly constructed script — and lucked into a pair of immensely compelling leads — that The Guard could probably get by on charm and chemistry even if it had nothing else to offer. “McDonagh’s script is agile, darting between the ridiculous, the sage and the surprisingly sentimental,” opined the Denver Post’s Lisa Kennedy. “His love of language and the absurd has hints of the wisecracking Quentin Tarantino. But the story is decidedly more rooted in Ireland’s loamy turf.”
The Buddy Cops: Straight-laced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and slovenly Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: When you have a cop on your payroll that’s as loudly insubordinate (yet utterly effective) as Mullins, there’s no point in yelling, lest you end up being rewarded for your trouble with a few insults and a tape dispenser to the head. Which is a shame, because as Tom “Captain Woods” Wilson proved when he played Biff in Back to the Future, he makes for a pretty compelling authority figure.
Saving the Day: Undermined by their co-workers and frequently at odds, our pistol-packing duo still manage to hunt down a local drug lord known only as Larkin — and even with cinema’s most godawful impromptu tracheostomy and a ghastly stab wound standing between them and the bad guy, they do (of course) manage to get their man. They also earned the admiration of critics like Movie Talk’s Jason Best, who wrote, “The Heat is crude and rude, and its plot is pretty ropey, but as Bullock’s by-the-book prissiness collides with McCarthy’s slobbish street savvy, its leading ladies strike scintillating comic sparks off each other.”
The Buddy Cops: U.K. constables Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) and Danny Butterman (Nick Frost).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: It’s actually Angel who does most of the yelling, mainly because he’s been “promoted” to the sleepy country town of Sanford as a way of keeping his spotless arrest record from ruining the curve for his fellow officers in London. Angel’s no-nonsense demeanor and sharp eye for crime seem utterly wasted in Sanford, and to add insult to injury, his new partner Butterman is an oaf whose evident incompetence is matched only by his childlike love of the cop shows and movies that make a mockery of Angel’s respect for the law.
Saving the Day: An affectionate half-parody of the buddy cop movie, Hot Fuzz subverts some of the genre’s cliches while following its basic narrative outline — which is to say that Sanford isn’t quite the idyllic hamlet it initially seems to be, and that Angel and Butterman find their groove and prove their partnership’s mettle just in time to bring the bad guys to justice. “What you get from Hot Fuzz is what you rarely see from Hollywood,” argued David Germain for the Associated Press. “Something genuinely smart and silly at the same time, a film and filmmakers that respect their characters, their audience and the genre at which they lovingly poke fun.”
The Buddy Cops: LAPD detectives Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), back for another round after 1987’s smash hit Lethal Weapon. While the first installment certainly had its funny moments, it’s the first follow-up that might be the funniest in the series — partly because it introduces the annoyingly fast-talking Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), whose antagonistic presence unites the occasionally fractious duo against a common nuisance.
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Mainly because Riggs is at least mildly insane, which makes for some of the most entertaining moments in the four-volume (and counting) Weapon franchise, but causes angst at HQ when you’re dealing with, say, a smuggling ring perpetrated by a cadre of South African diplomats.
Saving the Day: They’re ordered to leave the case alone, but you know you can’t keep Murtaugh and Riggs from pursuing the bad guys — especially ones as nasty as Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and his second-in-command, Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor). Things get a little dicey, of course — the original script had Riggs kicking the bucket in the final act — but our men emerge victorious and ready to reload for another sequel. “If you liked Lethal Weapon, you’ll like Lethal Weapon 2,” nodded the New York Times’ Caryn James. “It’s almost as simple as that.”
The Buddy Cops: Trigger-shy NYPD desk jockey Detective Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and his exceedingly reluctant partner, the much more aggressive Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Gamble’s pencil-pushing ways make him a liability under fire (not to mention the butt of department-wide jokes), but Hoitz has a few skeletons in his closet, too — including the time he accidentally shot Derek Jeter.
Saving the Day: Initially sent to investigate a permit violation, Gamble and Hoitz turn up a wide-ranging conspiracy involving an unscrupulous billionaire (Steve Coogan), a ruthless CEO (Anne Heche), and the NYPD pension fund. The entire department is against them, and their boss (Michael Keaton) is distracted with his second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond — can they collar the perp while delivering the funny? “The plot doesn’t always hold water and it has a tendency to ramble, but they don’t seem to care,” chuckled Betsy Sharkey for the Los Angeles Times. “And honestly, neither should you.”
The Buddy Cops: Moscow police captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Chicago detective Art Ridzik (Jim Belushi), thrown together when a Soviet drug kingpin flees to the States after murdering Danko’s partner.
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Ridzik is kind of a loudmouth, as well as a total schlub — which not only gives his superiors fits, but amps up the fish-out-of-water comedy that ensues once Danko muscles his way into the investigation.
Saving the Day: Things initially appear less than promising for our heroes — the bad guy, naturally named Viktor (Ed O’Ross), adds Ridzik’s partner to his list of casualties — but they eventually manage to find some common ground just in time to demolish half of Chicago before bringing him to justice. Although the involvement of director Walter Hill beggared a number of unfavorable comparisons to the superior 48 HRS, most critics had enough fun to give Red Heat a pass. “Walter Hill’s direction’s real cool, and the photography is beautiful,” wrote Kevin N. Laforest for the Montreal Film Journal. “The film is also pretty funny. The leads are great.”
The Buddy Cops: Chicago detectives Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal) and Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: In a departure from the buddy-cop norm, neither Costanzo nor Hughes are buttoned-up and/or by the books; in fact, they’re both wisecracking goofballs with a disregard for procedure, which is why their captain (Dan Hedaya) forces them to take a vacation after they narrowly manage to collar a local drug kingpin (Jimmy Smits).
Saving the Day: While loafing in Florida, our heroes decide to quit the force — but when they get back to the city and discover that their perp has walked on a technicality, they return to the streets for one last takedown. Even in 1986, the audience knew exactly which beats Running Scared would hit and when it was going to hit them, but Hines and Crystal’s chemistry was more than enough to compensate for any lack of originality. “This genre is so overpopulated that it hardly seems like we need one more example,” agreed Roger Ebert, “yet Running Scared transcends its dreary roots and turns out to be a lot of fun.”
The Buddy Cops: Hong Kong detective Lee (Jackie Chan) and his LAPD counterpart Carter (Chris Tucker).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Partly just to be heard over Carter’s rapid-fire, high-pitched squealing, but also because Carter’s arrogance almost ruins his and Lee’s investigation of a mysterious crime lord.
Saving the Day: Carter is brash and annoying, but he has reasons for his recklessness, and Lee is just the guy to show him the wisdom of reining in his impulsive attitude. It’s East meets West, and New Line Cinema meets franchise: Chan and Tucker’s delightful chemistry helped Rush Hour rack up nearly $250 million in global grosses, helping spawn a pair of sequels as well as a slew of critical praise from scribes such as Time Out’s Charlotte O’Sullivan, who wrote, “Much of the best dialogue, you suspect, was improvised by Tucker and Chan, who seem truly taken with each other and make a delightful, ordinary-extraordinary pair.”
The Buddy Cops: Immaculately mustachioed Seattle detectives Lecce (Richard Dreyfuss) and Riemers (Emilio Estevez).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Lecce is a grizzled vet who should know better than to go and fall in love with the gangster’s ex-girlfriend (Madeleine Stowe) that he and Riemers are supposed to be watching, but he’s suffering from post-divorce loneliness — not that it’s any consolation to the colleagues forced to wonder whether his loyalties have shifted once the con in question (Aidan Quinn) returns to his old tricks.
Saving the Day: Lecce and Riemers have a rather prickly working relationship — especially once Lecce starts leaving Riemers alone to man the binoculars while he’s off with his new lady friend. Do the partners bond over a final act that involves quips, firearms, and near-death experiences? If you’ve ever seen a buddy cop movie, you don’t even need to ask — but as Walter Goodman argued for the New York Times, “The director uses the conventions of the action-comedy in so adroit a way that you may even forget the hundred other films you’ve seen lately about a couple of cops kidding around with each other in between battling the bad guys.”
The Buddy Cops: Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) and David Starsky (Ben Stiller).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: Mainly because they’re borderline incompetent — and because their commanding officer is the decidedly imposing Captain Doby, played by martial arts master and former AFL defensive back Fred Williamson, who can yell at anyone he wants.
Saving the Day: They don’t really trust each other and they’re both sort of useless, but as they fumble about in their pursuit of local drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), Starsky and Hutch begin to develop a brotherly bond…although that’s really your only good choice after you’ve been involved in the accidental shooting death of a pony. Using the 1970s TV source material as an enthusiastically goofy showcase for Stiller and Wilson’s comedic chemistry, the result is good for more than a few laughs; as James Verniere wrote for the Boston Herald, “The film takes a bad but beloved 1970s TV series and transforms it into an experience of almost transcendent silliness.”
The Buddy Cops: Hong Kong cop “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan) and Interpol director Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh).
Their Commanding Officer Yells a Lot Because: The third entry in Chan’s Police Story series, Supercop is definitely a buddy cop movie, but its Hong Kong origins kept it from falling prey to some of the genre’s more annoying cliches. For the most part, Ka-Kui and Yang are on the road during this story, and her upper-level status with Interpol helps keep any interference from commanding officers at bay.
Saving the Day: While they do engage in their share of bickering — Supercop‘s finale finds them arguing over whether the ill-gotten goods they’ve reclaimed should go to China or Hong Kong — for the most part, Ka-Kui and Yang make a pretty terrific team here, hunting down a drug lord known as Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang) and bringing his reign of terror to a suitably stunt-filled conclusion. Most Chan movies work a fair amount of humor into (and in between) all those spectacular set pieces, but this one whips up a particularly potent blend; as Stephen Hunter wrote for the Baltimore Sun, “By its second half, Supercop cranks up into such an extravaganza of fighting, blowing things up, spin-kicking, punch throwing and death-defying that it all but takes your breath out of your lungs and packs it up for shipment to Hong Kong.”
Finally, here’s a clip from Turner and Hooch, in which a detective is paired with man’s best friend: