With Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy teaming up for The Heat (due June 26th), it is time to take a look back at past buddy action-comedy films that have helped to pioneer the beloved sub-genre. First, of course, a few ground rules!
Rule #1: Only one film per franchise. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief that none of the crappier Lethal Weapon’s or Bad Boys II’s or even Thelma and Louise 2: J. D. Returns are eligible. Ok I made the last one up.
Rule #2: It has to be funny. Midnight Cowboy isn’t funny. If you saw that film and laughed then stop reading, take a few aspirin, call 911 and tell them you are either suffering from a stroke or fourth stage syphilis brain-rot.
Rule #3: Must have action. Some Like it Hot is one of the funniest buddy movies ever, but no action, therefore a totally different sub-genre.
Rule #4: I get one personal choice. That means there will likely be one film on this list that seems to come out of left field and is not as ‘good’ as some other films that a truly objective critic would include. But sometimes you just can’t leave one film out, even though objectivity is screaming at you to include Men in Black, you stamp out the objectivity with irrational egoism and then you have…
10. I Come in Peace (1990, Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben) – When you type in this title on IMDB, you get linked to the international title Dark Angel. That should tell you how bad this film probably is, when IMDB ignores what the film is actually called. I say probably because I love the Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Expendables) and Brian Benben (Dream On TV series) team taking on intergalactic drug dealers harvesting a super-heroin from human endorphins. It’s the Blade Runner of sci-fi war-on-drugs allegories.
9. The Last Boy Scout (1991, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans) – This one was tough, because I knew that I needed Bruce Willis plus a black guy on the list, and it was between this and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Cop Out, 16 Blocks (akaDie Hard with a Moustache), and The Fifth Element sadly weren’t on the short list. Die Hard is probably the better film, which is interesting considering that it was originally a vehicle for Brandon Lee entitled Simon Sez, or something like that. But Boy Scout wins because it embraces the nuances of the buddy action-comedy more completely, with better banter for the leads from writer Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Monster Squad). Also we were used to John McClane flying solo, and suddenly here we are, part III, ready to retire and I gotta break in a new g*#[email protected] partner? Not too old for this yet, but almost.
8. Bad Boys (1995, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence) – We must remember that Michael Bay did not always cast the gorgeous vacuous types that would eventually bite the very hand that made their careers. They used to just be vacuous. Even so, Bay’s sweeping stylization goes naturally with the bromanticization that comes naturally with the cop-buddy-action-comedy. I am also including as part of this ranking the scene from Bad Boys II where Lawrence and Smith greet Lawrence’s daughter’s date. It is the best chemistry they ever had and the funniest scene to come from a terrible movie ever.
7. Thelma & Louise (1991, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) – Thank goodness for this film, otherwise it would be a total sausage-fest for a list that is timed for a female buddy action comedy flick. Barely qualified because it’s really not that funny, but it is, so it does, and it is a very good movie to boot. Incredible chemistry between the leads, a great script from Callie Khouri (Nashville TV series) and the 2nd best ‘f*$% it’ ending on this list.
6. Tango & Cash (1989, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell) – Lacking any resemblance of self-awareness and certainly the cheesiest film to make the list, this film had some of the best worst lines, like Cop: ‘He thinks he’s Rambo.’ Stallone: ‘Rambo, is a pussy,’ (just a feint of self-awareness, I assure you) along with some of the worst best lines like Stallone: (cocking a gun) ‘You look a little pale, maybe you need some more iron in your diet.’ Kurt Russell played his role somewhere between Captain Ron and Snake Plissken, Stallone played the usual hodgepodge of mumbling tough guys, but this time he wears suits and trades stocks (something everyone did in the 80’s apparently). Despite this, I love this film, great action, and I applaud a film that unapologetically goes all the way. Of all the films that do not have sequels but should, this one is way up there with The Last Starfighter.
5. The Blues Brothers (1980, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) – Of all the films that have a sequel but shouldn’t, this one is way up there with Staying Alive. But the original was hysterical, with great music from icons like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and others along with a car chase scene that is something like French Connection meets looney toons. Back when they used actual cars instead of actual pixels for car chase scenes. Getting closer to being too old for something. 4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969 Paul Newman and Robert Redford) – What an idea. Turn the best looking guy from the prior generation (Newman) and the best looking guy from the current generation (Redford) into heroic anti-heroes assuring that every woman (and some men) from the ages of 15-65 will want them and all the men will want to be them. A great film that still holds strong today, and the #1 ‘[email protected]*# it’ ending on this list.
3. Lethal Weapon (1987, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) – It’s time, all together now ‘I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!’ What a great catchphrase. Glover even used it in a cameo role for Maverick. Part II may have made the list were it not for rule #1, but the first of the series is the best. They helped to make grief and suicidal tendencies funny. Sometimes, though, it’s not that funny. Doesn’t anyone else think that it’s sad that Mel Gibson seems to be digressing to Martin Riggs, his character from Lethal Weapon, as an unhinged psycho, grieving the loss of his wife? He made the Passion movie, why has he been forsaken? I said it’s not that funny, but it is somehow a little funny. Who else wishes they could have heard a drunken Mel Gibson call a cop ‘sugar-tits?’ Mel should have been too old for that, but at least we have the double act of Martin and Riggs to remember his career by.
2. 48 Hours (1982, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte) – The film that revolutionized the genre that was soon crafted even finer by the prior film on the list. In watching this film again, I was struck by the not-so-vague racism that came from Nolte’s character. Not that he was a racist, some things were just a more acceptable part of the cultural vernacular 30 years ago, but don’t tell Paula Deen that. It was almost distracting, where years ago when I watched the film I barely noticed. These are the times we are conditioned to. But still you liked him, and somehow you bought the eventual comradeship between him and Reggie Hammond (Murphy), even though he said things like ‘What the hell you smilin’ at, watermelon’ to Reggie (it’s funnier when you hear it through Nolte’s gravelly phonetics). What’s different with this film from the others is that these two guys HATED each other (and it wasn’t racial, despite some of the language, it was social), at one point they even throw down, and it’s not as if they are best buds by the end, a begrudging respect at best. It helps that it was a great script spotlighting the extreme differences between the two, making them funny. Murphy’s work in the country bar scene is still my favorite of his to date. It also helps to remember that this was back when Eddie Murphy felt he had something to prove.
1. Midnight Run (1988, Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin) – For this genre, for its time, with these guys, this was nearly as perfect as a film gets. DeNiro is a hardass reactionary trying to get Grodin, a dry, fearful, annoying mob accountant from New York to Los Angeles before the bond runs out. The more DeNiro rages and gesticulates, the more Grodin just shrugs and goes on about chorizo and eggs or whatever, which makes DeNiro rage and gesticulate even more. Maybe it’s adding in the fact that it is a buddy-action-comedy-ROAD film gives that extra necessary turn of the screw. This film is simply the best and fullest representation of what this genre can be.
Honorable Mentions – Men in Black, (too much Will Smith, pretty soon I predict we’ll be saying that about his son),Running Scared (Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines are cops, just like Lethal Weapon if Gibson was a diminutive Jewish man and Glover was a tap-dancer), Red Heat (Schwarzenegger and James Belushi, this was really the only eligible film from Mr. Universe, but I couldn’t put the not-funny Belushi on the same list as the funny Belushi).
We’ll see soon how The Heat measures up, though it would be hard-pressed to crack this list. Let us know what you think with your comments and feedback!