Given the immense unknowable diversity of the thriving planet on which we live, statistics state that there must exist somewhere a human adult person, maybe an abandoned jungle orphan who was raised by wolves, who has never experienced a buddy cop film. Haha, just kidding, that’s absolutely impossible. From the genre’s sputtering beginnings in the ’70s, the crescendo built until some sort of sociological tipping point was reached with “Lethal Weapon” in the late 80s, leading to a Cambrian explosion of renegade cops teamed with straitlaced partners much to the chagrin of their permanently choleric police captains, whose ass the Commissioner/Mayor was almost constantly riding. The decades since have seen the genus evolve its own subspecies at an alarmingly rapidly rate: the cop-and-a-kid movie, the cop-and-a-dog movie, the cop-and-a zombie movie, and so on. With this weekend’s “The Heat” bringing yet another spin on the genre (dogs, kids, zombies whatever, but women? wacky old Hollywood just won’t quit, will it!) we set ourselves the unenviable task of sifting through the literally billions of titles that fit the bill in order to pick out a manageable few high and lowlights.
Strictly allowing ourselves only 20 titles — 10 good, 5 bad and 5 “weird,” we concentrated solely on those buddy movies which are primarily comedies, mostly English-language, or which heavily feature comedic elements (though there’s a sliding scale at work there), and also on those which have at least one of the buddies as an actual law enforcement officer. So we mostly avoided the many variations that encompass everything from spies to private detectives, retirees, superheroes, bounty hunters and separated twins, no matter how well they otherwise fit the formula and still we had more movies to choose from than there are stars in the night sky. So the following makes no claim to being definitive, but instead is a handy primer in a genre that shows no sign of quitting any time soon (“R.I.P.D.” will grace screens with a supernatural take in a few weeks if the ladies of “The Heat” don’t deliver for you).
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“48 Hrs.” (1982)
The general perception is that “48 Hrs.” was a star vehicle for young Eddie Murphy, and that’s not wrong: as an ex-con now with a badge, Murphy held sway over the screen like the 40 ft. tall legends Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree of the earlier Blaxploitation era. However, while those were hard men, Murphy’s charisma and delivery almost seemed welcoming, friendly, and if you were ignoring his words, you’d think this was just one of the guys. It’s this showman/antagonist dichotomy that makes Murphy’s role in Walter Hill’s classic something of a high watermark for all acting performances in the eighties. Though, again, that general perception doesn’t tell the whole story, namely that Murphy is provided able support from an early-crust turn from Nick Nolte. Nolte delivers a performance that’s funny without being comedic, a cop who is principled about both the law and his opposition to black men. “48 Hrs” earns its stripes as a buddy cop comedy simply because these two very different, very unpleasant, very chatty men somehow find a believable common ground with minimal dialogue, only through a dedication towards getting the job done. This was mirrored in the sequel “Another 48 Hrs”, but by then the job in question more involved Murphy and Nolte and their corresponding paychecks.
“Lethal Weapon” (1987)
While the DNA of the modern cop buddy movie seems to have its roots in the punchy, diabolically entertaining “Lethal Weapon,” one can’t help but see the first film as registering fairly darkly comical. The idea of sprinkling comedy into an action picture wasn’t new, but screenwriter Shane Black cleverly took the framework of what had been established earlier and peppered in moments of uneasy, pitch-black laughs, the kind that would soon dot the margins of works like “The Last Boy Scout” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is a family man, but he is also a friend, making his discomfort and suffering a key component in the introduction and subsequent development of suicidal supercop Riggs (Mel Gibson). Like Batman reminding himself as much as his quarry, “I’m Batman” in Tim Burton’s version of that story, it’s impossible to forget that, unlike the action figure he would become in “Lethal Weapon 2” (and the quipping old man in parts three and four), you’re constantly rooting not for Riggs to get the bad guy as much as you’re pleading for him to reject the dark side and find a new purpose for living. “48 Hrs” may have come first, and its racial edge remains sharp to this day, and still confrontational; it is the better film by far. But “Lethal Weapon” is most likely the film that brought interracial cop teams into our households as a viable, entertaining, controversy-free idea.
“21 Jump Street” (2011)
The idea of mismatched buddy cops is now deeply ingrained in popular culture, and “21 Jump Street” writer/directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller make that apparent at every single moment with this cheeky re-imagining of the cult hit television show. Forced to work under a screaming boss (Ice Cube) who nonetheless seems to comment on his own short fuse and unreasonable expectations as genre tropes, young-ish police recruits Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are tasked with what ends up being an impossible mission: infiltrate the local high school disguised as students. The natural tension between the two is obvious and familiar, Tatum as the granite Romeo and Hill the insecure, bookish nerd. But in developing the path these two must follow in order to truly become partners, a plot device that switches their intended class schedules finds them learning to appreciate and understand their differences, in a plot development that feels both Apatowian, but also very much a part of cop film dynamics.
“Police Story 3: Supercop” (1992)
So while Jackie Chan definitely deserves a top spot somewhere here, as his action/comedy chops are so perfectly suited to this genre, there was some debate over which Jackie Chan buddy cop comedy to choose. Ultimately, we felt ‘Supercop’ just won over “Rush Hour” mainly because here Michelle Yeoh (or Michelle Khan as she was then) is a more appealing foil than Chris Tucker, for our money, kicking ass more convincingly and less annoyingly, all the more uniquely for being a woman. Yet it’s still a buddy film as the essential platonic nature of the central duo is retained, with Chan’s franchise girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) returning, and Yeoh spending most of the film masquerading as his sister. There’s also some neat cross-cultural stuff in that Chan is a Hong Kong cop sent to the mainland to work with his Red Chinese counterpart (Yeoh) to bring down a drug czar, which, however cursorily dealt with here, adds a layer of interest. It kicks off in daft manner (“… We need a SUPERCOP” announces the Chinese police chief, banging the table with his fist before we cut to Chan), and is tonally inconsistent throughout with slapstick action contrasting with the more life-threatening kind, but when the fights are this entertaining, the more so for being so clearly performed by the very physically talented actors, who gives a damn?
“The Guard” (2011)
If the buddy cop comedy is usually painted in broader strokes, wherein the chalk-and-cheese partners who loathe each other at the beginning end up as inseparable best friends who possibly date each other’s family members, “The Guard” is proof positive that the formula can work even when that range is closed down to an almost imperceptible thawing instead. Here foulmouthed, racist, well-read, but abrasive and confrontational Irish country policeman (Garda) Gerry Boyle, played, wait no, embodied, by Brendan Gleeson, is teamed with urbane FBI agent Everett (Don Cheadle) and the sparks of kinship abjectly fail to fly. By the end however, it’s not that they’re close exactly, but a tiny modicum of mutual respect has crept into the prickliness of their relationship, and with the character of Boyle especially so well-drawn, we understand this tiny uptick to be as heartwarming a shift as if he was engaged to Everett’s sister by the end. With John Michael McDonough’s script pretty much defining the term “lyrically profane” and a rich vein of minutely-observed political incorrectness to be mined, the film could easily veer off into simple tastelessness, but is pulled back by Gleeson’s great performance and by the characterization of Boyle as, at the very least, an equal-opportunities bigot. Truly hilarious and unfortunately overlooked on its initial release “The Guard” is maybe more niche-y than the director’s brother Martin’s success with Gleeson-starrer “In Bruges” but it fucking owns that niche.
“Bad Boys” (1995)
By now, the story had been told dozens of times, but “Bad Boys” began life as a buddy cop comedy so malleable its original stars were supposed to be Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. While that would have been an appealing duo to a certain section of old “SNL” fans, few knew what to expect from the teaming of sitcom rapper Will Smith, standup comedian Martin Lawrence, and a little-known commercials director named Michael Bay. On what was then considered a limited budget, Bay gave Lawrence and Smith free reign to shape their characters, allowing race to be at the forefront of a big studio film with no subversive intentions, only the desire to showcase fast cars, big explosions, and sleek gunfights. What resulted was a modest crowd-pleaser that put Bay on the map and turned Smith and Lawrence into major movie stars (though each would have different levels of success). By the time “Bad Boys 2” came around, Bay was one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, Smith was an Oscar-nominated headliner, and Lawrence was… available, and so the second film allowed the camaraderie to take a backseat to some of the most breathless and complex action sequences of the modern era. But it’s in that first film where Bay established himself as an un-ironic appreciator of fast-moving action interspersed with comedic interplay that served a strong legacy of buddy cop comedies.
“Beverly Hills Cop” (1984)
It’s funny how so many buddy cop movies began life as an entirely different genre. “Beverly Hills Cop” was initially meant to serve as a potential franchise for star Sylvester Stallone. Allegedly, those efforts became the actioner “Cobra,” which features several laughs of the unintentional variety, allowing Eddie Murphy to shape what was left to his specific skill set. The fish-out-of-water setup proved beneficial, with Murphy as Detroit cop Axel Foley, sent to sunny California to investigate a grisly murder case. While “Beverly Hills Cop” is now considered more of a starring vehicle for the ascendant comedian, it was also a showcase for the surprising chemistry between Foley and a couple of fellow detectives who provided professional tension but also admiring support. While some buddy cop comedies seemed built on the antagonism between mixed races, “Beverly Hills Cop” actually places one over the other, honoring the outsider’s point of view over the establishment, illustrating how a little tolerance can help everyone work together just a bit easier. As Murphy grew bigger, Foley himself grew smaller, and that sentiment vanished: by “Beverly Hills Cop III” Murphy’s Foley seemed to be a faceless company man. Murphy has since revisited Foley in a “Beverly Hills Cop” television series, but the pilot (from Shawn Ryan, creator of “The Shield”) was not picked up, leading some to wonder what Foley would look like now that he’s probably the very face of the establishment he used to challenge.
“Hot Fuzz” (2007)
We’d be hard pushed to point to anyone who understands better than Edgar Wright and his frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, that if you’re going to send up a genre successfully, you have to love it, unironically and with your whole heart, to begin with. And that’s really what leaps off the screen in “Hot Fuzz,” the trio’s tribute to/pastiche of the buddy cop movie that displays just as much real affection for the films it parodies as it does sharp-eyed dissection of their more ridiculous tropes and cliches. But it’s also a mark of the film-as-its-own-thing that as much of the humor (and it is very, very funny) comes from character-based moments between real-life buddies Frost and Pegg as does from winkily parodying “Bad Boys” or “Point Break,” and that’s also where it derives a great deal of its surprisingly warm heart. Surprisingly warm, for a film that features the single best ever roundhouse kick delivered to a pensioner, that is. Its plotting may start to fray a bit in the last act, but it’s packed with amusingly hammy cameos and surreal detours (Jim Broadbent’s delivery of “great big bushy beard” is a gift to cinema that will never stop giving) and a deeply dotty Englishness that more than compensate. Nutty, sweet and good to the last crunchy bite, “Hot Fuzz” is a giant delicious Cornetto of a film, and we’re looking forward to seeing how “The World’s End,” the third (after ‘Fuzz’ and “Shaun of the Dead”) in the loose trilogy, stacks up by comparison.
“Running Scared” (1986)
Unfairly overlooked in the annals of “the Captain’s gonna have our asses for this!” biracial buddy movies, “Running Scared” with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines is actually great fun, even if it breaks one of the basic founding rules of the genre in that the two cops in question actually like each other from the get-go (they’ve been partners and best friends a long time already it seems). Since there’s no “I’m not working with this rookie!” or “My partner is out of control!” conflict for the two to overcome, it could be suggested that as a duo they don’t have much of an arc (gonna retire; not gonna retire, is about it), nor are they particularly differentiated from each other — they’re two quick, witty wisecracking sides of the same coin. But really, it hardly matters when the dialogue is this rapid-fire and the chemistry between the leads is this convincing. The plot’s silly enough and a little convoluted (Jimmy Smits’ bad guy is not given much in the way of script — except for memorably bellowing “My coke, my COKE!” at one point, but Joe Pantoliano has fun with a snitchy role that anticipates Joe Pesci’s in the “Lethal Weapon” sequels), but really this is more comedy than action movie and all the drug busts and subplots about a pair of cocky young undercover cops are just there to provide hooks for Hines and Crystal to hang some one-liners off. And Dan Hedaya turns in something of a definitive angry-boss-who’s-really-on-their-side performance too. So everyone delivers the banter with the timing and precision of pros, with Hines really showing the mettle that had him cast in the Eddie Murphy role in “48 Hrs” (he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with “The Cotton Club” — what could have been!), and between the repartee and the nice Chicago-ey feel, with a car chase that happens on the L a special action highlight, it’s kind of an irresistible package. Which marks it out as a neglected high point in the erratic career of director Peter Hyams too.
“The Other Guys” (2010)
A cop chained to his desk after shooting Derek Jeter. A mild-mannered forensic accountant looking to get some respect. A police chief who moonlights at Bed Bath & Beyond and has an uncanny knack for quoting TLC even though he has no idea who they are. What could possibly go wrong? Well, in Adam McKay‘s “The Other Guys,” everything goes wrong and that’s the point. The balls-out hilarious comedy teams mismatched detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell, wonderfully earnest) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, perfectly Huckabees-esque), but don’t ask us what the plot is, because we forgot, and it doesn’t matter. Ferrell and Wahlberg are simply magic together, barreling through a movie that has no qualms stopping for metaphors about lions and tunas, or for a ridiculous tableau of a drunken night on the town. Not to mention random running gags about hobo orgies led by Dirty Mike And The Boys and more. In short, this movie just strings along and endless supply of great scenes and gags, powered by two actors who are totally game, hinging onto a story about an evil businessman or something. But you’re too busy laughing to care what it all amounts too.
“Top Dog” (1995)
There are times when researching these features is a real pleasure, turning up hidden gems or reacquainting us with old favorites. And then there are times we have to watch “Top Dog.” The last, and worst, in a brief spate of buddy comedies that featured the wacky twist of one of the buddies being of the canine persuasion, “Top Dog” is notable for a couple of other things aside from, but probably linked to, its direness: it was the last Chuck Norris movie to be released theatrically before Norris disappeared into a long period of DTV and “Walker, Texas Ranger” purgatory; like many previous Norris outings, it was a family affair with his brother Aaron directing; it’s awful, but maybe a shade better than “Forest Warrior” their eco-collaboration of the following year; and most interestingly, as utterly asinine as it is, “Top Dog” actually stirred accidental controversy. In fact, it was released just nine days after the Oklahoma City bombing, and seeing as its plot features a terrorist organization intent on a bombing campaign, it seems even the film’s complete lack of verisimilitude in other areas couldn’t stop people from drawing discomfiting real-life parallels. How much that affected the film’s dismal reception, however, is hard to quantify, as obviously it’s vying with the fact that it’s Chuck Norris and a dog who can apparently sniff out not just drugs but other random evidence like photographs, which may have been quite enough to keep audiences away in their droves in the first place. Even if you’ve a weird hankering for dog/cop movies, unless you have a serious masochistic streak (in which case we are always on the lookout for new writers!), avoid this one in favor of “Turner & Hooch” or “K-9” or even TV movie “K-9000” (about a cop teamed with a robot dog). According to joke lore, Chuck Norris is capable of almost anything, but we wonder if that includes sitting through “Top Dog.”
Scrabbling around in the bargain bin of the late ’80s/early ’90s for bad Buddy Cop Comedies starts to feel after a while like shooting fish in a barrel. So while, yes, there are worse movies we could have chosen for this slot, we kind of wanted to highlight some more recent failures in the genre, that don’t have creaky special effects, or unenlightened social attitudes to excuse their shittiness. Enter, stage right, 2002’s “Showtime,” itself emblematic of another subgenre (the cop/actor clash as also detailed, with variations, in the equally poor “Hollywood Homicide,” the rather better “The Hard Way” and the terrific “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), that with the admittedly off-the-boil but still promising teaming of Robert de Niro and Eddie Murphy, doesn’t really have any good excuse for under-delivering as sorely as it does. Here Murphy plays a cop who wants to be an actor, who sees his chance for stardom when De Niro’s old crusty renegade cop becomes the reluctant lead in a “reality” TV show and needs a partner. Given a central conceit pitting it against the silly world of faked reality TV, the real shame is that the film’s satire is so toothless, rather like its humor and its central relationship, and the whole thing plays out so predictably. And if Murphy provides some value for money just by bringing his usual energy even if it’s in service of a poor script, de Niro is more than ever just phoning it in here. Add to this a really awful, grating turn by Rene Russo as the grasping TV producer who we only realized toward the very end we’re supposed to actually have grown to like over the course of her previous shrill, cartoonishly 2-D scenes, and the whole thing is a sorry opportunity missed. It’s by many miles not the worst film on this list, but it may very well be the most wasteful.
“Cop and a Half” (1993)
More than arguably any genre bar the romance or romantic comedy, the buddy cop comedy lives or dies on the chemistry between its leads, which makes it a problem when there is none. And for that in this case, we can’t blame little Norman D. Golden II who is clearly encouraged into the kind of precocious wise-ass performance that the filmmakers mistakenly believe will come across as charming (basically trying to create a pint-sized Eddie Murphy with a squirtgun). More culpable is veteran Burt Reynolds, who, well, we get that he doesn’t want to be anywhere near this kid or this film or maybe this state, from every single frame he’s in, as he glowers and scowls and is needlessly over-explained en route to the thawing of his cold, cold heart (his partner was killed, see?) and the establishment of an inevitable father/son dynamic between the two that repairs them both in impossibly trite manner. Of course, it is a kid’s movie, but even back in ‘93, the adults who accompanied their kids to see films might have expected to be thrown a little more of a bone than the cloying sentimentality and misguided slapstick we get here. But instead director Henry Winkler is pretty much asleep at the wheel, letting the comedy slump in favor of more precocious posturing from the kid and more glowering from Reynolds. The brief relief when Ruby Dee is onscreen, as the child’s guardian and grandmother is just not enough to compensate for such uninspired scripting and direction elsewhere — Fonzie shoulda given this particular jukebox an extra whack or two. As it is it’s further proof (along with “Kindergarten Cop” and “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot”) that teaming a hardman cop with the very old or the very young never turns out well, no matter how hilarious it may look on paper.
“Samurai Cop” (1989)
So we’ve as much of a problem as the next guy with movies that people dub “so bad they’re good” in that, a lot of the time to our mind the movies aren’t actually bad enough to be good, and falling short, they end up just at “extremely bad.” However “Samurai Cop” might just attain the sort of “The Room” levels of badness, in its most extreme moments, that make the descriptor justified. With barely-above-amateur-porn levels of acting (and a coincidentally high incidence of nudity) and baffling casting that sees several people play counter to their own, fairly evident ethnicity, not to mention the lead Matt Harron, whose flowing black mane, orangey skin and ripped bod make him look like the offspring of Fabio and a Jaffa Cake, from the get-go the film is a veritable treasure trove of ironic enjoyment. And as the plot progresses and reveals itself, when it’s coherent at all, as deeply racist and sexist, that somehow makes it all even better (worse) — the blatant bigotry is packaged so clumsily and with such obvious, irredeemable stupidity that it’s almost progressive in how little credibility it has. Or maybe we’re just trying to excuse ourselves for having laughed so hard. As for its central “buddy” theme? Well, in being the one guy tasked with taking down hordes of Yakuza who are invading LA, Joe “Samurai” Marshall (Jaffabio), so named because he’s an “expert on Japan” is paired with an obligatory black partner who doesn’t get the many lead-footed zingers with which the script gifts Samurai, but instead gets to run the gamut of reactions, in shots that all look like they were filmed in a studio elsewhere and then spliced into the film with no regard for the lighting, or indeed décor, of the particular scene. It’s no wonder this is finding a home on the late-night cult movie circuit, and really the only surprise is that we’ve delayed this long in tracking down the complementary part of director Armin Shervan’s diptych “Hollywood Cop.”
“White Chicks” (2004)
The Wayans family has produced a number of talented faces in front of and behind the camera. It’s disappointing, however, to think that the one way one could match them up with the buddy cop formula was to put them in white-face. Director Keenan Ivory Wayans threw taste out the window by putting appealing Marlon and Shawn Wayans underneath heavy latex in the comedy “White Chicks.” The two play dedicated agents who are forced to go undercover at the adult equivalent of a prep school, the Hamptons during the summer, fully disguised as two of the most horrifying women on the planet. The comic potential pretty much begins and ends at these two well-built men under heavy makeup and dresses, toting guns and yelling, “Freeze!” though all parties involved seems to think this gag has a lot of traction. The Wayans poke fun at what they perceive to be “white culture”, and the film naturally touches on the twisted sexuality of the hetero-male buddy cop setup, but very little is done to explore these ideas; instead, the picture is stolen away by a hysterical, inspired Terry Crews, a man who, now that we realize, desperately needs his own buddy cop comedy franchise.
“Freebies And The Bean” (1974)
From underrated auteur Richard Rush comes this absolutely chaotic buddy cop actioner that seems to predate the genre by a good few years. How else to explain all the ingredients in place as if someone traveled through time and took notes? In James Caan and Alan Arkin, you have the two mismatched title characters, a cheap Jewish smoothie and a hot-wired Mexican cop (Arkin as a Mexican – the seventies!). There’s also an over-extended, apoplectic police chief played by a memorably exasperated Alex Rocco. And the action doesn’t even seem of that era, a wild kaleidoscope of foot and car chases, crashes and fisticuffs that proved Rush was far ahead of his time, showcasing the braininess and anger of Arkin’s neurotic husband, along with Caan’s sideburned ladykiller. Even for a film that wasn’t considered a box office hit, and didn’t hit DVD until a couple of years ago, the DNA of “Freebie And The Bean” (which also, grossly, crams in the buddy cop genre’s noted homophobia into its heavy climax) can be found in almost all ensuing buddy cop comedies.
“Loose Cannons” (1990)
So how is it that the Dan Aykroyd/Gene Hackman-starrer “Loose Cannons,” which has the dubious achievement of being a rare film with an impressive 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating, comes in under “Weird” and not “Bad”? Well, not to say that it’s good, but get a load of this plot: a maverick loner cop who gets results (Hackman) is reluctantly teamed with a genius-level detective (Aykroyd) whose PTSD has triggered multiple personality disorder, to track down a Nazi sex tape that allegedly features Adolf Hitler and potentially compromises the incoming German Chancellor, which was being shopped to a local D.C. sleaze merchant/fetishist (Dom DeLuise, not sure we ever got much of an explanation as to why he and his friends were dressed as Alice in Wonderland characters initially, but we guess “fetish” covers everything). However the Germans start killing everyone who’s seen the tape and only our intrepid heroes, aided by the Israeli government in the form of Mossad agent Nancy Travis can stop them, even if those pesky multiple personalities, mostly culled from TV and movies, keep getting in the way. Nazis! Split personality! Buddy cop formula! Dom DeLuise! Mossad agents! What could possibly go wrong? Well, yes, you’re right. Lots. Strangely though, in amongst the terrible over-plotting and really tin-eared humor there are rare flashes of genuine charm in the film’s calmer moments, which says a lot about Gene Hackman especially, who is mostly forced to sit by and be a bit grizzled as Aykroyd blithers and gibbers his way through an increasingly irritating series of characters (Road Runner, the complete cast of “Star Trek,” English Guy), but who delivers the few competent scenes of bonding with a kind of depth the film really does not deserve. Mostly though, the zany bad taste of the concept is not delivered on enough to make this a kitsch classic, but it’s already too wide of the mark to ever be able to vie for actual credibility. A low point on a host of CVs, including, sadly, the recently deceased Richard Matheson who like many others involved, was so, so much better than this film.
“Dead Heat” (1988)
Thinking of settling in for the evening with Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo in “Dead Heat”? There’s a simple question you might want to ask yourself first: “How stoned am I?” and, frankly, we already know the answer — “Not stoned enough.” So however bombed you may think you are, go off and force yourself to imbibe/spark up until you can no longer remember your own name and then AND ONLY THEN are you in the right frame of mind to tackle, and possibly even enjoy, this astoundingly bad movie. Making it into “weird” because of a bonkers plot that has Williams’ Detective — wait for it — Roger Mortis and his lunkheaded partner Bigelow (Piscopo) hot on the trail of seemingly unkillable bad guys, some of whom have a suspiciously lumbering gait and sewn-together faces (actually the make-up and effects work is quite impressive at times), Mortis inevitably gets killed and goes through the same reanimation process that the bad guys did. The high concept (“high” as in decomposing, we guess) might promise silly fun on paper, but the terrible absence of any chemistry between the leads (Piscopo is just a big, glassy-eyed occasionally gurning hulk in most of the film, and that’s long before he too gets zombified or whatever), and the jaw-droppingly awful script that has newly-deceased Mortis contemplate his mortality for about 4 seconds prior to heading off to solve the case, means even low expectations are disappointed. A couple of notable cameos, though: the great Vincent Price stoops beneath his dignity to appear in a few later scenes as the ultimate Big Bad, and Godfather of the buddy cop genre himself Shane Black turns up as a patrolman in a single scene (you have to feel a bit sorry for his brother Terry, who’s the writer here, especially considering this came out the year after Shane’s defining “Lethal Weapon.”) Still, if you manage not to sober up prior, there’s a nice gory moment when a character revealed as a female zombie essentially liquefies in front of us.
Something of a rarity now, and it’s not difficult to see why, “Partners” plays like a “comedic” (though where the comedy comes in is slightly beyond us) take on William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” with straight, womanizing cop (Ryan O’Neal) paired with closeted gay police clerk (John Hurt) to infiltrate the gay community and take down a killer of male models. That description perhaps doesn’t do justice to quite how toe-curlingly uncomfortable a watch this is now. With its mores so pinpoint specific to prevailing attitudes at that one moment in history, it’s hard to believe it didn’t age badly during the time it took to process the film stock. It’s difficult to say what’s less appealing to the modern eye: the tacit assumption that we’re all on Ryan O’Neal’s side and find homosexuality just the oogiest, for all we’re decent people who think “each to his own” and “whatever anyone wants to do in the privacy of their own home…”; or the problematic characterization of Hurt’s character as a prim (and strangely sullen, for a comedy) housewifey swish who’s as ashamed of his sexuality as the worst bigots on the force suggest he should be; or the fact that while O’Neal’s character can identify Hurt’s as gay simply by virtue of him not leering conspiratorially at a girl’s ass, no one in the gay community of cruisers, leather fetishists, aging queens and gym hardbodies ever notices that O’Neal is shamming at being gay, despite his clear discomfort at every moment. Perhaps well-intentioned and even progressive for its time, if that time was 3.14pm one Tuesday afternoon back in ‘82, now it feels like an embarrassing relic — like a racist grandparent — in which the comedy falls flat, the plot is laughable, the storytelling all over the shop (last-minute bad guys appearing and sudden minor characters delivering crucial bits of exposition) and the central pairing so unbalanced that even the very final scene sells out Hurt’s newly heroic character in favor of another “oh, no, the gays!” moment from O’Neal. That said, it has definite curiosity/time capsule appeal but here’s a sample “joke” to test if you can stomach it: after Hurt’s character correctly identifies a killer and tries to convince the captain that O’Neal’s life is in danger as a result, he is summarily dismissed and the Captain delivers the classic “must be that time of the month!” (managing the double whammy of homophobia and sexism in one) to the other officers, who chuckle heartily. If that’s your bag, “Partners” may well be a laugh riot. Everyone else, approach with caution, and for socio-historical educational purposes only.
“Theodore Rex” (1995)
A futuristic comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg as a cyborg law enforcement officer teamed with an anthropomorphic talking dinosaur (he wears pants and eats cookies!) to investigate the murder of another dinosaur… This baby just screams, “greenlight” doesn’t it? But as terrible as you might think it is from that logline, “Theodore Rex” will find a way to surprise you by being even more terrible. The spongy charmless design of Theodore and the other dinosaurs, with their big glassy dead eyes and way-sub-muppets expressivity is maybe exhibit A in why the film failed to connect with the family audience it was aimed at, but honestly, we’re spoiled for choice as to reasons — the plot, the script, the wastage of the eclectic supporting cast including Bud Cort, Richard Roundtree and Armin Mueller-Stahl, the plug-ugly and cheap looking production design… We could go on. But as incomprehensible as the story is (something about Mueller-Stahl wanting to launch an Ice Age, and then repopulate the world with the animals of his choosing) the real mystery here is how they managed to spend $35 million on this garbage. Though, of course, Whoopi Goldberg accounted for $7 million, the sum she settled on as her fee having tried unsuccessfully to leave the production before shooting began. Anyway, we hope some creative Hollywood accountant got a Cayman Island out of it, because the film became to that point, the biggest direct-to-video flop in the U.S. ever. Which is impressive, yes, but spare a thought for the rest of the world who didn’t get off so lightly and endured theatrical runs in most territories. Way to foster international relations, America.
Special Commendations/Dishonorable Discharges
There are many that just missed our “good” list, and where possible we tried to mention them in passing elsewhere, but a few that probably deserve another shout-out are “Men in Black” which is not cops per se, but they do enforce galactic law or something and otherwise it certainly functions successfully as a classic buddy action/comedy; “Tango and Cash” which has by now attained something like classic status within the genre; “Rush Hour” especially number one in the franchise before the screechiness became too unbearable; Canadian culture clash movie “Bon Cop, Bad Cop” which is actually a lot of fun but is shot with such an irritating soundtrack and so many horrible dutch angles and blue/grey filters that the fine script and performances are undercut; “Starsky and Hutch” has its fans; the original French “Taxi” is a fun ride, much more so than its also-a-buddy-comedy U.S. remake; while “Blue Streak” with Martin Lawrence is a surprisingly good time; and damn the haters, we have a fair bit of residual love for “The Hard Way.” “Stakeout” is a’ight (though the sequel’s a mess) while “National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1” has its admirers among us, too.
We went into the Jay Leno and Pat Morita-starrer “Collision Course” expecting to find it dire, and were pleasantly surprised, if we’d stop short of calling it ‘good,’ — it too occupies that large slice of no man’s land between good and bad, that contains too many of these films to list. But for a notable few that we didn’t get to mention in “bad” (the competition was quite tough for those slots) we have: “Cop Out” which is again disappointing and strangely forgettable rather than flat-out disastrous; “The Man” with Eugene Levy and Samuel L Jackson which is not particularly funny but at least it’s short; and also Martin Lawrence squandering the goodwill from “Bad Boys” and “Blue Streak” with “Big Momma: Like Father Like Son” which we’d happily burn our house down before watching again.
Did we neglect to celebrate your favorite or forget to single something out for ridicule and opprobrium? Feel free to demand our gun and badge in the comments below. – Jessica Kiang, Gabe Toro