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Strange Pals: Film’s many buddy-cop pairings

Buddy pictures are so ingrained in cinema that the niche could be considered one of the most enduring and successful sub-genres around. The lives of the police force are good fodder for film. They’re more dangerous than the life of a businessman, more realistic than the life of a rock star, and have as many fun clichés to play with as the life of an assassin. 

Mismatched cops are typically placed in action comedies with the central focus on a big case that brings the unlikely pair to realize they’re not so different after all. Typically one cop will have to save the other in either a comical or dramatic circumstance.  The Other Guys, the latest entry in the genre, looks to take the comedic route. The film debuts in theaters tomorrow with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg playing the cops of different sorts.

Ferrell is forensic detective Allen Gambell, a dedicated desk cop who prefers paperwork to fieldwork. Wahlberg becomes his partner, Terry Hoitz, a passionate street detective publicly disgraced after an embarrassing incident. The desire of both to ascend to the prestige of top cops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwane Johnson) leads them on an adventure that’s more than they bargained for.

In this scenario, director Adam McKay pairs a desk jockey with a decorated officer. Gambell is an unabashed nerd, complete with a doctor for a wife. He is far from streetwise, bringing a wooden gun on a car chase. Hoitz on the other hand is the brawn; yelling, throwing coffee, and telling off his boss.
 Hollywood has used this incarnation of buddy cops before, though with variations in the pairings.


In 1982, director Walter Hill put buddy pictures on the map when he cast Eddie Murphy opposite Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs. Nolte as cantankerous Detective Jack Cates is out to catch some cop-killers. He has 48 hours to crack the case and his best aid is wisecracking convict Reggie Hammond. The two can’t stand each other; one is paid to enforce the law and the other delights in breaking it. Murphy’s performance garnered him a Golden Globe nomination and the favor toward the film and strong box office spawned a sequel in 1990.

Eddie Murphy had another successful buddy franchise (and the more famous of the two) in Beverly Hills Cop. Axel Foley is a tough cop from Detroit who travels to Beverley Hills to avenge his friend’s murder. He is joined up with a hapless recruit named Billy Rosewood played by Judge Reinhold. The hit action comedy even garnered attention form the Academy. This time Murphy was both streetwise and a fish-out-of-water. His partner wasn’t a crotchety detective however; he was an apple-cheeked rookie reluctant to stick his neck out.

48 Hrs.
and Beverly Hills Cop had one recurring buddy film device in common- pairing a Black male with a White one. This tool works with just about any ethnicity. Rush Hour and its sequels placed motor-mouthed Chris Tucker with barely understandable Jackie Chan. Tucker’s comedic timing met Chan’s physical agility to the tune of $244 million worldwide -- and that was just the first of three films. The entire series is in the top ten highest grossing buddy comedies on BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The top earner in the category belongs to Men in Black, which adds the element of extraterrestrial to the formula. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play a young New York cop and a soon to retire government agent. It’s a black cop and white cop, old guy and young guy, charismatic character and crotchety character all rolled into one. Recently, a second sequel was announced, with Smith signed on to reprise his role as Agent J.

Lethal Weapon
has mounted three sequels on the back of the sub-genre. Perhaps the most typical demonstration of the method makes a duo out of a rebel cop and a by-the-books officer. Such is the case with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). Gibson channels Gibson as an unhinged adrenaline junkie with nothing to lose since the death of his wife while Murtaugh is a straight shooter with personal ties to the case.

The Other Guys
is in good company as an action comedy in the buddy genre. It prefers to lean on the comedic aspect more heavily than the most successful films in the category. Ferrell’s story seems to aim at satire in fact, not unlike Hot Fuzz which paired a hardcore cop with an overly eager wannabe. Cop Out also made mockery of buddy pictures earlier this year joining uninterested Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) with distracted and stupid Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan). Time will tell where The Other Guys lands in terms of buddy-cop cinematic history.


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