When Humphrey Bogart unexpectedly joined forces with Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca, the seeds of the buddy cop film were sewn. Writer/director Shane Black is an old hand at the genre having revitalised it in 1987 with Lethal Weapon in which Mel Gibson’s near-suicidal detective, Riggs, is paired with Danny Glover’s by-the-book Murtaugh.
Black’s 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, where Robert Downey Jr’s sneaky thief is mismatched with a gay detective played by Val Kilmer, was more or less a warm up for his latest, The Nice Guys, which sees louche private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) team up with thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). From the moment Crowe breaks Gosling’s arm you know this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. With The Nice Guys hitting cinemas, here are eight memorable buddy cop movies – featuring law enforcers paired with dogs, aliens and accountants – to get you in the mood.
Akira Kurosawa’s police procedural is one of the earliest buddy cop movies. Set during an unbearably hot summer in Tokyo, it pairs rookie policeman Toshiru Mifune with veteran Takashi Shimura in a bid to track down Mifune’s stolen gun. As with all these films, its success depends on the unlikeliness of the leads getting along – when idealistic, nervy Mifune firsts meets Shimura, the latter is eating ice lollies and sharing cigarettes with a suspect he is supposed to be interrogating. Mifune is horrified and there doesn’t seem to be a cat in hell’s chance of these two working well together. Of course, it’s not long before they’re seeing eye to eye.
Virgil “they call me Mister” Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is an outstanding homicide cop, forced to work alongside racist redneck sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) in Mississippi, after he is inadvertently caught up in a murder investigation. Like Stray Dog, the film takes place during a sweltering summer, which sees the tension between the two characters boil over. Based on John Ball’s groundbreaking 1965 novel, Norman Jewison’s film works as both a clever whodunit and an uncomfortable examination of deep-rooted racial tensions.
When a murderous street gang lay siege to an isolated, soon to be decommissioned police station, officer Austin Stoker finds himself in the unenviable position of having to team up with Darwin Joston, a dangerous criminal currently in the police station cells, to defeat the gang. John Carpenter’s nod to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (in which John Wayne’s sheriff relies on a drunk Dean Martin), Assault on Precinct 13 is a brilliantly tense action film, its most electrifying moment coming when Stoker and Joston join forces. By the end their relationship is strangely moving.
A hardboiled white cop is teamed with a street smart black convict to track down a killer in two days. Walter Hill’s wildly enjoyable comedy thriller blasted newcomer Eddie Murphy to superstardom, and little wonder. Playing off against a gruff and irritable Nick Nolte, Murphy is like a kid in a candy store, and the scene where he swaggers into a redneck bar is a classic, featuring some of cinema’s most memorable – and unprintable – put-downs.
Jack Sholder’s underappreciated sci-fi thriller has Michael Nouri as an LA cop who enlists the help of an alien cop, played by Kyle MacLachlan (coming on like a smart suited Spock), to track down a parasitic monster wreaking havoc in the city. It’s Beverly Hills Cop meets It Came from Outer Space, and it’s a total blast. For more alien/cop fun see 1988’s Alien Nation.
Robert De Niro is on fine form here as a bounty hunter attempting to get Charles Grodin’s bail-skipping mob accountant to Los Angeles. The union of leather-jacketed heavy and simpering white-collar criminal is a pure joy, especially when it becomes apparent that Grodin is playing his captor. As one IMDb reviewer notes: “It has everything except a few Academy Awards and that’s a mystery in itself.”
Having seemingly exhausted all buddy cop formats, this action comedy sees Tom Hanks’ detective team up with his dead pal’s dog, a slobbering French mastiff, whom he hopes will help solve a crime – if the hound doesn’t destroy his apartment first. It’s basically The Odd Couple with a dog in the Walter Matthau role. In a decade of high concept nonsense, Turner and Hooch was a box office hit, resulting in several cheap knock offs in the form of K-9 and Top Dog. The latter is, erm, a real howler.
Michael J Fox plays a jaded, spoiled Hollywood megastar who decides the only way to prepare for his forthcoming role as a New York cop in a crummy action film is to hang out with the real thing. Much to the chagrin of James Woods no-nonsense lieutenant, who is lumbered with the brattish star as a ride along on a murder investigation. Director John Badham also made buddy copy classics Stakeout and Blue Thunder, where Roy Scheider’s pilot cop not only doesn’t get on with his partner, but also has serious reservations about the police helicopter he has to fly. Talk about conflict!
The Nice Guys is released 3 June.
Published 31 May 2016
By David Hayles
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