Rogue 10: Ten Perfectly Matched Buddy Cop Duos

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 14:56 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Rogue 10: Ten Perfectly Matched Buddy Cop Duos

The rhythms of the buddy cop movie are so familiar that, even when not done spectacularly well, such a movie can function as comfort food, like a more male-oriented romantic comedy.  After all, aren't all stories of mismatched partners forced to work together and gain an abiding respect for one another love stories on one level? 

In John Michael McDonough's new film The Guard, Brendan Gleeson stars as small town Irish police sergeant Gerry Boyle, a profane, racist misanthrope whose love of prostitutes has left him with a serious itch in his crotch.  An international cocaine operation forces him into cooperation with Wendell Everett, a humorless straight-arrow FBI agent played by Don Cheadle.  To celebrate their unconventional but ultimately fruitful partnership, we're happy to present a list of ten buddy cop duos that hit every note just right.

Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman, Hot Fuzz


What better way to kick off this particular list than with Edgar Wright's comedy that lovingly pays tribute to the buddy cop formula while also poking good-natured fun at its tropes.  Co-writer Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, the best and most by-the-book cop in London.  When he's transferred to the sleepy village of Sandford, he strikes up an unlikely partnership with Butterman, the chief's incompetent son played by Nick Frost.  More than any other film here, Hot Fuzz demonstrates that a buddy cop film is fundamentally a heterosexual romance between two men.


Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett, Bad Boys


Back in 1995, long before he turned cars into robots or even blew up Alcatraz, Michael Bay made his feature debut with the adventures of two Miami narcotics cops played by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.  The former is a Porsche-driving, penthouse-dwelling ladies' man, while the latter is a neurotic, burdened family man.  The film highlights the differences between the partners by setting up a Three's Company-style setup forcing Burnett to pose as Lowry for the sake of a witness (Tea Leoni).  They're the only pair on this list who, in the sequel, crash a KKK rally and destroy a Cuban shantytown in a Humvee.


David Mills and William Somerset, Seven

Morgan Freeman is Detective Lieutenant Somerset, a somber and reflective intellectual mere days away from retirement.  Brad Pitt is Detective Mills, a temperamental young officer too impatient to even read Cliff's Notes as research into a series of gruesome killings.  The opposite perspectives represented by the jaded older man and his young protege anchors director David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker's macabre thriller.


Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond, 48 Hrs.

Only one half of this partnership is actually a law enforcement official, as Nick Nolte stars in Walter Hill's action-comedy as an alcoholic cop pursuing a convict-turned-cop-killer.  In order to find the murderer, he teams up with criminal's incarcerated former associate Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy), granting him a two-day reprieve from prison in order to assist the investigation.  Murphy's rapid-fire energy plays off Nolte's gruffness to great effect, and in the grand tradition of buddy cop comedies, they improbably bring out the investigative best in one another.


Jimmy McNulty and William 'Bunk' Moreland, The Wire

(Warning, the clip below contains plentiful foul language)

Okay, so these two homicide cops appeared on a cable series, not in a movie, but the magisterial long-form storytelling of HBO's The Wire allows for a police procedural that spans five seasons and serves as a layered, dense portrait of an American city in decay, so it's justified.  Baltimore detective McNulty (Dominic West) is a classic self-destructive alcoholic and his sometimes-partner Bunk (Wendell Pierce) is always happy to share a drink by the railroad tracks.  You won't see any other partners in an investigative scene involving every possible permutation of a certain expletive.


Richard Chance and John Vukovich, To Live and Die in LA

The first of two movies on the list directed by William Friedkin, To Live and Die in LA follows Richard Chance and John Vukovich, Secret Service agents played by William Peterson and John Pankow.  Adrenaline-junkie Chance is obsessively pursuing counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), while Vukovich is always aware that he's in over his head.  When Chance drives against traffic on an LA freeway, Vukovich can only panic in the backseat.  As they head towards an inevitably conclusion, though, Vukovich increasingly adopts his partner's recklessness.


Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


Shane Black, who wrote another notable entry on this list, made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, in which a pre-Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. stars as a bumbling criminal who lucks into a potential acting career, where he's coached by private detective 'Gay' Perry (Val Kilmer).  They find themselves in a strange mystery, but the main attraction of the film is in watching these two well-defined characters bicker incessantly in Black's adroit, endlessly witty dialogue.


Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mardukas, Midnight Run


Once again, neither of these guys are, in fact, cops, but the confrontational chemistry between the two leads and their eventual friendship typifies the genre.  Besides, Robert DeNiro's Jack Walsh is a bounty-hunting former cop who must safely escort Mafia accountant "The Duke" Mardukas, played by Charles Grodin, from New York to Los Angeles, while the FBI, the mob, and a fellow bounty hunter all vie for Mardukas and the $100,000 he represents.


Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, Lethal Weapon

You knew it was going to be on here somewhere.  Written by Shane Black and directed by Richard Donner, Lethal Weapon is basically the locus classicus of the buddy cop subgenre.  Mel Gibson is Riggs, a suicidal former sniper who lost his beloved wife, while Danny Glover is Murtaugh, a husband and father nearing retirement.  Endlessly imitated but never equaled, not even by its three sequels, which pay fewer returns with each subsequent return to the well.


Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and Buddy Russo, The French Connection

William Friedkin's Best Picture winner does not feature the comedic element that defines many of the other entries on this list, but the relationship between partners played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider.  Popeye is the embodiment of the reckless detective archetype, a headstrong, racist, amoral son of a bitch who absolutely will not stop.  Buddy is his loyal counterpoint, a reasonable man who nonetheless sees how effective Popeye's style can be.  The hugeness of Popeye's personality necessarily overshadows Buddy quite a bit, but in almost every other good police partnership on film, you'll find shades of the one here.

The Guard opens on limited release on Friday, July 29th.

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