“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.