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Stop In The Name Of The Law: The Best Of The Buddy Cop Genre

Evan Crean Evan Crean
February 25th, 2010 9:27am EST

Cop Out

Buddy cop movies involve two characters with completely different styles - usually one by the book and a wild one with no fear. They reluctantly team up to stop a crime and become friends in the process.  These two characters usually can’t stand one another in the beginning, but as time passes they begin to appreciate the other’s perspective.  They blend the excitement of an action movie with the wit of comedies, creating a very entertaining experience.

In honor of the latest film in this genre, this week’s “Cop Out” starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, we're spotlighting some of our favorite buddy cop movies.  These films contain action and humor based on the pairing of two unlikely partners, even if they aren’t necessarily police officers. 

5. LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

“Live Free or Die Hard” is the most recent film on the list, and although it’s not entirely conventional in the buddy cop formula, the combination of a seasoned hero used to conquering overwhelming odds and a wimpy computer hacker is an effective pairing.  John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) low tech crime fighting is an amusing clash with Matt Farrell’s (Justin Long) advanced knowledge of electronic devices.

Initially McClane is tasked with apprehending Farrell because he’s suspected of computer crime; however after McClane saves Farrell’s life from a group of mercenaries, the two become reluctant partners in the struggle to stop a cyber terrorist.  McClane’s brawn and Farrell’s brains are the only things that stand in the way of a mad man plunging the United States into chaos. 

“Die Hard” fanatics worried that this sequel, over 10 years after the previous film in the franchise, would not have the same magic as the earlier adventures mainly due to Bruce Willis’s age.  With John McClane in “Live Free or Die Hard” though, Bruce Willis proves that even if age slows him down a bit, he’s a guy who can take tons of physical abuse and still have the energy to spout great one-liners.

 

4. THE LAST BOY SCOUT

Neither of its heroes are police officers, but that does not matter in this movie because the protagonists take on the role of police investigators in the case of a murdered stripper.  “The Last Boy Scout” has a former Secret Service agent turned private detective named Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) teaming up with an ex-professional football quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans).  These two could not be a more mismatched pair: Hallenbeck is a down on his luck private detective whose wife and daughter can’t stand him, while Dix is a washed up athlete addicted to drugs who was kicked out of football league for gambling. 

Dix and Hallenbeck cross paths when Hallenbeck takes a case to protect Dix’s girlfriend Cory (Halle Berry), a stripper afraid for her life.  When Cory is shot down on Dix and Hallenbeck’s watch, they decide to launch their own investigation into why she was killed, and to make those responsible pay.  Joe and Jimmy are a hilarious team because Joe is an experienced investigator who plays the game like he has nothing to lose, whereas Jimmy does not have a clue, he just knows how to talk back to the bad guys. 

One of the reasons the characters shine in this film is because of the snappy dialogue.  Written by Shane Black, the man behind the first “Lethal Weapon,” the wisecracking banter present in film noir heavily influenced Black when he developed the rapport of the characters.

 

3. KISS KISS BANG BANG

Where “The Last Boy Scout” succeeds in the humor department, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” also stands out in a major way due to the dry wit and sarcasm of both Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer.  An experienced gay detective, quite imaginatively known as Gay Perry (Kilmer) is assigned to look after a small time crook masquerading as an actor Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.).  Perry’s mission is to show Harry the ropes of police work in order to prepare him for a role in which he was comically miscast. 

While Perry is teaching Harry the basics of police work the two become wrapped up in a real murder mystery involving the kidnap and murder of a high profile heiress.  Since the heiress is his childhood friend Harmony’s sister, she asks Harry to take the case unaware he is not a real detective, thus spawning an investigation by Harry, Perry, and Harmony. 

The dialogue between Harry and Perry is wildly comical as is the first person narration by Downey Jr., in this homage to film noir.  The formula that Shane Black applied to the “Last Boy Scout” to replicate the snappy dialogue of the classic noir tales works yet again in his screenplay also penned by Black.

 

2. LETHAL WEAPON

It would be difficult to speak about other lesser known movies in Shane Black’s repertoire without mentioning his first foray into the genre in 1987.  A by the book family man Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) must accept a young maverick Sergeant Martin Riggs as his new partner.  Murtaugh and Riggs are a classically mismatched set of cops amusingly thrown together; Murtaugh likes to play it smart and safe because he has a wife and kids, while Riggs is quick with his gun and has nothing to fear since he has lost his wife. 

Riggs and Murtaugh’s differing attitudes help to balance each other out and teach one another about the merits of both mindsets as they try to stop a gang of drug smugglers led by the delightfully evil henchman played by Gary Busey. 

“Lethal Weapon” is a fantastic film because it has action and excitement as well as witty dialogue.  As a film it is important because it launched the screenwriting career of Shane Black, as well as making Mel Gibson more well-known with American audiences, since the bulk of the actor’s work had previously been on movies in his native Australia.


1.      BEVERLY HILLS COP

Some might argue that this film is more comedy than action movie or even buddy cop genre.  Even though it’s incredibly humorous because of Eddie Murphy, “Beverly Hills Cop” is also a satisfying police story.  After seeing his childhood friend Michael Tandino gunned down by some shady characters from LA, Axel Foley (Murphy), a Detroit cop who never plays by the rules, decides to personally find out the culprits behind his friend’s murder.

The rogue cop is unwelcome in sunny California by the seedy business man Victor Maitland, who is angry the out of town police officer is meddling in his affairs, as well as by the Beverly Hills police who suspect he’s just a guy on a revenge mission.  At first two dorky cops Detective Billy Rosewood and Sergeant John Taggart are assigned to monitor Foley’s activities and to prevent him from interfering with Victor Maitland’s business, yet over time the two slowly become convinced Axel is onto something and they decide to aid him.

Eddie Murphy excels in the role of Foley, a street smart cop who knows how to use his charisma to get the job done.  Judge Reinhold and John Ashton play the stiff Beverly Hills cops Rosewood and Taggart with ease, and show that the characters can learn from Axel and to lighten up just as easily.  While it’s not heavy on action there are some good shootouts, fights, and old fashioned sneaky police work, that make his film a lot of fun to watch.

 

 

Honorable Mentions: “Rush Hour,” “Point Break,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Dragnet,” and “48 Hrs.”
Evan Crean
Story by Starpulse contributing writer Evan Crean, a movie trivia guru and trailer addict with a practically photographic memory of actors and directors. Get a first look at the movies premiering each week, which which ones will be worth your $10, which ones you should wait to rent and which ones aren't worth your time.

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