Whilst blending gang warfare with fairytale creatures might be a step out of the norm, the familiar thread of two mismatched heroes forced to team up with one another is something that audiences will always be drawn towards.
Set in an alternate present-day, this action-thriller directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad, End of Watch, writer of Training Day) follows two cops from very different backgrounds (Ward, a human played by Will Smith, and Jakoby, an orc played by Joel Edgerton) who embark on a routine patrol night that will ultimately alter the future as their world knows it. Battling both their own personal differences as well as an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a thought-to-be-forgotten relic, which in the wrong hands could destroy everything.
With Ayer’s upcoming entry in mind, I thought it’d be a bright idea to pull up some of the best buddy cop case files and take a look back at model law enforcing pairs in movies. Take a look and see if you’ve missed any that by (film) law you should’ve seen before Smith and Edgerton draw their swords and sidearms at the ready.
1. Hot Fuzz
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost replicate the undying bromance they displayed in Shaun of the Dead and wrap it in a flak jacket and aviator shades in Hot Fuzz. Pegg plays police officer, Nicholas Angel; a big cop who stumbles upon a conspiracy in the sleepy town of Sandford, all for the greater good. Teaming up with wet around the ears rookie, Danny Butterman (Frost), Fuzz fires shots at everything from Point Break to its own brain-munching predecessor, cementing it as one of the best cop comedies this side of Bad Boys II (“you ain’t seen Bad Boys II?”)
Armed with a wicked British cast (including a dastardly Timothy Dalton who delivers almost a Bond villain level bad guy), Wright’s second chapter of the Cornetto Trilogy is a favourite to many, almost surpassing Shaun. As well as being rib-achingly funny, the director’s skill at calling the shots leads to some awesome sequences and enough firepower to decimate a village fete. Does Hot Fuzz deserve to stand at such a level as one of the best buddy cop movies ever made? Yarp. Yarp it does.
2. Alien Nation
Turns out Bright isn’t the only alternative Los Angeles with otherworldly inhabitants in it – there’s also Graham Baker’s sci-fi orientated cult favourite, Alien Nation. Set in the futuristic year of 1991, once enslaved alien humanoids known as Newcomers have sought refuge in L.A., causing a rift between their species and our own. James Caan plays the LAPD cop who reluctantly pairs with the police department’s first non-human police officer, Sam Fransisco (Mandy Patinkin) to track a murderer who is on a Newcomer killing spree.
It might struggle to hold up now, but there’s a bit of charm still beaming from Baker’s film that focuses on a chalk and outer space cheese team-up. Caan is an especially crotchety badge-wearing hero who slowly comes to appreciate his new alien ally played by Patinkin. A slightly calmer looking conehead, Sam Fransisco plays things like a fish-out-of-water trying to get in his partner’s good books and finally settling things over a beer and an out-of-date glass of milk (Newcomer’s get hammered from it), before they get finally get the bad guy. Seek this out if you can, as a remake is currently in talks.
3. Training Day
King Kong ain’t got sh*t on Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning turn opposite Ethan Hawke, in the David Ayer-penned police drama Training Day. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, these cops are anything but buddies as fresh off the force Hoyt goes under evaluation by badge-wearing tyrant, Det. Alonso Harris (Washington). Even with this good cop and very, very bad cop, it doesn’t ruin what is one gripping film and an Oscar-winning turn from Washington.
Playing a bad guy with a badge for once, Washington’s Harris is electrifying as a corrupt cop to the core, keen to manipulate or mow down Hawke’s law-abiding rookie, if necessary, which makes for the strongest aspect of the film. Some of the tensest moments are simply when these two snap at one another driving around L.A., constructing bittersweet chemistry that is on the brink of exploding. With one party desperate to enforce the law and the other happy to bend it to his will, Training Day is easily some of the best work Ayer has ever put his name to.
4. End of Watch
Eleven years on from Training Day and Ayer had long since found himself a comfy spot in the director’s chair and returned to the intense cop thriller domain with End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Sticking to the streets of South Central Los Angeles, these boys in blue are thankfully on the right side of the law as opposed to Ayer’s previously penned award-winner, and the two officers on duty are just as enjoyable to watch.
Prior to filming, Gyllenhaal and Peña drove around in a patrol car to get the lay of the land and stay in each other’s company long enough to make the chemistry between them believable. It only takes a few minutes on the dashcam to confirm that the choice led to positive results, adding to not only the realism but the emotional heft they carry with them that increases with every property they enter without backup, or any gang-infested corner that you wish they didn’t turn on to. This is without a doubt one of Ayer’s directorial highs.
5. Lethal Weapon
After spawning three sequels (and a fourth on the way, possibly) as well as a surprisingly entertaining TV adaptation, there’s no denying that the magic is still there Lethal Weapon even after 30 years since the original. Setting the bar for mismatched action heroes from then on, Mel Gibson is the crazy-eyed loose cannon with a badge and the crick in the neck of Danny Glover’s family man who is too old for this particular vocation. They’re a perfect fit.
Whilst John McClane’s trip to Nakatomi Plaza might be seen as a Christmas favourite, Lethal Weapon is another entry for the silly season that’s just as entertaining. Shane Black’s debut script pops with every exchange between our heroes that go from loathing to loving one another by the film’s end and is jammed with some great scenes that get them there. Gibson’s Riggs might be the firework that constantly blows up at every given moment but Glover’s Murtaugh being the one to stand back and watch him go off make it that bit more entertaining.
6. Bad Boys
During the dawn of Bayhem, the now Transformers go-to guy was getting his feet wet in sunset-soaked explosions and exaggerated action that actually had some purpose. At the centre of all this was Will Smith nearing the end of his reign as the Fresh Prince, partnered up with Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. It might be a product of its times (like a lot on this list), but it was a brilliant showcase of its two leading men and a film that thrived off their chemistry more than anything else.
Even with the rather ropey case of mistaken identity and the extent as to which that goes, Smith and Lawrence carry the film together through effortlessly. Add in the talent of Tea Leoni and Joe Pantoliano as the boys’ grouchy but loveable boss and you’ve got a clichéd cop movie that still manages to bring something fresh to the much-loved formula.
Our first entry on the list that sees cop and crook team-up is also the only animated entry in the line-up as well. Disney’s follow-up to huge success Frozen had to be a great one and they didn’t do too badly with giving the world Zootopia. Ginnifer Goodwin’s Judy Hopps is the plucky new police officer in this animal-infested town, who reluctantly seeks the help of Nick Wilde, a super smooth scam-artist fox, when she stumbles across a government conspiracy.
Besides showing kids that we should never judge a book by its furry cover as is the Disney mantra, Zootopia effortlessly pulls in the familiar tropes of the buddy movie thanks to Judith and Nick’s wonderful relationship. Nature says that they shouldn’t be even in the same room together, but be that as it may, the highs and lows of this plucky pair makes for a great watch and end with Nick finally finding his place in the big city as one of Zootopia’s finest.
8. 21 Jump Street
Though it seems common practise now to take an IP and run as far away from the source material as possible, 21 Jump Street proved that sometimes, such a move can work wonders. Tatum and Hill as Schmidt and Jenko go from bully and bullied to best buds undercover in the directorial début of Chris Miller and Phil Lord, and the results are absolutely hilarious.
Their mission is simple; infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier. The method of which they go about it is a perfect clash of old school vs. new in just about every facet of this refined revamp. Not only is it a tight and masterfully meta script, but the equally comedic action sequences that are sandwiched between it balance things out nicely. For every car chase out manoeuvring flammable objects, there’s the sight of seeing the two tripping out after a dose of HFS. Remember kids, don’t do drugs.
9. Men In Black
Will Smith once again dabbles in buddy movie territory, this time being the fast and loose ying to the deadpan yang of Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black, and is easily one of the formers most favoured roles. Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe, the world of the MIB is enjoyable enough as it is, but Smith and Jones walking through it make it that much more entertaining.
It’s a familiar dynamic that sees one member having trouble with authority and the other not particularly enjoying being the one to enforce it. Be that as it may, the two work wonderfully together, making it no surprise about why we’d see them reprise their roles on two more occasions later down the line. Extra credit has to go to Vincent D’Onoforio as the alien in the slowly decaying man suit, making for an exceptional villain as the cockroach from hell. Raise a glass with sugar…in…water to MIB and the soundtrack of the 90s.
10. In the Heat of the Night
They call him Mr. Tibbs and any buddy cop film that followed would do well to remember it. The Sidney Poitier-starring classic that even Lethal Weapon leading man, Danny Glover considers his favourite film, is one that broke so many boundaries and is a corner-stone for every mismatched police pair thereafter. Immensely intense in its delivery, Poitier is the man from out-of-town who begrudgingly joins the sheriff of a racially charged town of Sparta, to solve the murder of a high-level businessman.
A classic that hasn’t aged and performances that are just as timeless, Rod Steiger’s role won him an Academy Award for Best Actor as Chief Gillespie, but Poitier’s portrayal of Philadelphian homicide detective Virgil Tibbs is magnetic. Talked over by everyone he meets, he clashes with Sparta’s top lawman on several occasions before the playing field slowly levels out and the two begin to recognise they want the same thing. Making a social statement that slaps you to attention, In the Heat of the Night is film that has burned into the memory of cinema history and has no chance of ever fading. Case closed.