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Bringing 'The Heat': 10 Good, 5 Bad And 5 Weird Buddy Cop Comedies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 26, 2013 at 2:05PM

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.
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Freebie & The Bean
The Weird

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

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

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.

Partners

Partners” (1982)
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)

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.

Tango & Cash
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 

This article is related to: The Heat, 48 Hrs, Feature, Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, 21 Jump Street, Features