Revival House: Eleven Great Buddy-Cop Flicks

Written by Film, Revival House

Two men, forced to work together, learning to respect each other along the way. Sometimes one is a loose cannon, sometimes they’re from different cultures, sometimes from opposite sides of the law — just about every variation of the cliché has been played out. And sometimes, despite the familiarity of it all, the results are still fun. Here are some of my favorites, starting with number 11.

Red Heat (1988). “Moscow’s toughest detective. Chicago’s craziest cop. There’s only one thing more dangerous than making them mad: making them partners.” The tagline pretty much says it all. Walter Hill directs this story of a Russian cop (Arnold Schwarzenegger) forced to team with an American detective (James Belushi) to catch a Soviet drug dealer who flees to the U.S. Riddled with clichés of the genre, but nevertheless a fun ride.

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Shoot to Kill (1988). “A ruthless killer. A beautiful hostage. Two men follow them into the mountains. One for love. One for revenge.” FBI agent Stantin (Sidney Poitier) is forced to team up with mountain-man Knox (Tom Berenger) to capture a ruthless diamond thief (Clancy Brown) who has escaped into the woods, blending in with a group of fishermen on a hike lead by Knox’s girlfriend (Kirstie Alley). The pursuit eventually leads to the streets of Vancouver in this fun riff on Aesop’s country mouse, city mouse fable.

Point Break (1991). “27 banks in three years — anything to catch the perfect wave!” In terms of on-screen buddies, this one’s a two-fer. First, you have the old-cop young-cop partnership thing going between FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Pappas (Gary Busey). Then there’s the complicated relationship between Utah and surfer Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), his prime suspect in a rash of bank robberies. Wait, did I just use the word “complicated” to describe something about Point Break? Okay, so it’s not the most plausible film ever made — just don’t think about it too much and enjoy the rush.

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Stakeout (1987). “It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it!” A slight variation on the formula since the two cops Lecce (Richard Dreyfuss) and Reimers (Emilio Estevez) are buddies from the start, and thus don’t go through the “gradually come to respect one another” phase. The film, from WarGames director John Badham, ultimately works due to the excellent pairing of Dreyfuss and Estevez.

Hot Fuzz (2007). “Big Cops. Small Town. Moderate Violence.” Edgar Wright directs this story of big city London cop Angel (Simon Pegg) who is “promoted” to the rural village of Sandford where he is teamed up with action movie junkie Butterman (Nick Frost). The result is a hilarious send-up of buddy-cop movies that also manages to be an excellent entry in the genre as well — with plenty of funny over-the-top violence. The talented trio of Wright, Pegg and Frost had previously collaborated on Shaun of the Dead (2004), a similarly excellent entry in the zombie genre.

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Rush Hour (1998). “The Fastest Hands in the East Meet the Biggest Mouth in the West.” I thought the genre was pretty much dead, then came this great bit of fun from director Brett Ratner. Nothing really new here, but there’s some very funny banter between stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan — and Ratner manages to make a Jackie Chan movie that’s actually very similar in tone to his Hong Kong films, perhaps best illustrated by the moment where Chan tries to save pieces of Chinese art during the middle of the climactic fight.

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Lethal Weapon (1987). “If these two can learn to stand each other … the bad guys don’t stand a chance.” Detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), soon to retire, is partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who turns out to genuinely be suicidal in the aftermath of his wife’s death. The action movie as we know it owes a lot to director Richard Donner’s film (and of course John McTiernan’s Die Hard), but the standout moment for me is the scene where Riggs contemplates eating a bullet in his trailer. Murtaugh getting “too old for this shit” is the running joke — yet they still managed to squeeze out three more movies.

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Beverly Hills Cop (1984). “The Heat is On!” After 48 Hrs. and Trading Places, Eddie Murphy proved he was a legitimate star in this vehicle perfectly suited for his talents (it’s interesting to think the part was originally written with Sylvester Stallone in mind). Martin Brest directs and Murphy stars as Axel Foley, a Detroit cop in Beverly Hills to solve the murder of one of his childhood friends (James Russo). John Ashton and Judge Reinhold are hilarious as the two Beverly Hills detectives who at first give Foley resistance but then … oh, you know the drill by now.

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Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). “The magic is back!” Richard Donner directs a rare sequel that’s actually better than the original. Added to the re-pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh is the hilarious comedy stylings of Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a Federal witness they are assigned to protect — who also has a thing about getting food at the drive-thru. Riggs’ suicidal tendencies are downplayed in this installment, though thankfully he does seriously lose his shit a couple of times.

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Midnight Run (1988). “Robert De Niro has to get the FBI off his case, the mob off his trail, and Charles Grodin off his back!” Terrific pairing of De Niro, in a role that pretty much proves he has impeccable comedy chops, and Grodin, in a role he was pretty much born to play. The screenplay by George Gallo also has many cool supporting roles for great character actors such as Yaphet Kotto, Joey Pantoliano, John Ashton and Dennis Farina. Another solid entry from director Martin Brest.

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48 Hrs. (1982). “The boys are back in town. Nick Nolte is a cop. Eddie Murphy is a convict. They couldn’t have liked each other less. They couldn’t have needed each other more. And the last place they ever expected to be is on the same side. Even for … 48 Hrs.” The best of them all is essentially the one that started it all (though 1974’s Freebie and the Bean came way before it and I read at least one list that considered 1967’s In the Heat of the Night of the buddy-cop genre — a bit of a stretch but certainly the elements are there). But the film that made the genre viable is the classic pairing of Nick Nolte as a crotchety not-by-the-book cop and Saturday Night Live star Eddie Murphy as the convict who he’s forced to team up with to find bad guy Albert Ganz (James Remar). The unexpected thing here is that Nolte is every bit as funny as his comedian co-star. Director Walter Hill (Red Heat, Southern Comfort) manages to maintain a perfect balance of humor and actual jeopardy for the characters.

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