Who’s the Best Bro Action Team?
The “Buddy Action” duo, often colored by comedy, has become its own genre. It’s crucial in these settings that the duo is mismatched – an Odd Couple thrown into precarious situations. And eventually, in the best of these films, the two fundamentally different characters find common ground.
From the early 80s, all the way to this weekend’s Central Intelligence, here are the 10 best, most balanced, most convincing and well-conceived Buddy Action duos in cinema.
10. Matthew Sykes and Sam Francisco (Alien Nation) – What’s often a criminally overlooked, allegorical sci-fi thriller, Alien Nation deserves another look. Especially given our current national conversation about immigration and crime. James Caan is tough cop Matthew Sykes, and Mandy Patinkin his extraterrestrial partner Sam Francisco. Sykes is a little racist (towards aliens), Francisco relatively straight-laced, but they eventually come to an understanding as they infiltrate the criminal underworld of these “Newcomers.”
9. Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash (Tango & Cash) – Don’t tell me Tango & Cash isn’t a damn near perfect movie when taken into context. Fresh on the heels of Lethal Weapon success, Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell tried their hand playing two tough cops framed for murder. It’s trash, but fun trash. Stallone’s Tango is tough but organized, Russell’s Cash is tough and disheveled. The movie travels through some truly unusual prison scenes and some hyper-violence, all the while Russell appears to be pulling the typically dreary Stallone out of his shell.
8. Detectives Lecce and Reimers (Stakeout) – Call me crazy, but I enjoy BOTH Stakeout and Another Stakeout. The original, however, is a special combination of Richard Dreyfuss’s uptight Lecce and Emilio Estevez’s laid back kid Reimers. The team has to keep an eye on the girlfriend of an escaped convict – the great Madeleine Stowe – and eventually love complicates things. Dreyfuss and Esteves have a comedic chemistry that I would never have expected from those two.
7. Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman (Hot Fuzz) – Hot Fuzz had the interesting approach to send up the very movie in which it becomes in the end. While satirizing buddy action formulas in film, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Angel and Butterman eventually become honest-to-goodness crime fighters in the sleepy London town of Sandford. Pegg and Frost had some better pairings, most notably in Shaun of The Dead, but that doesn’t take away from the timing and the pitch-perfect satire they show here.
6. Ivan Danko and Art Ridzik (Red Heat) – Another overlooked late 80s action classic. Red Heat is often considered “Minor Schwarzenegger” since it somehow came and went without much fanfare. Arnie plays a USSR policeman on the trail of a heroin dealer. He’s rigid and humorless, so naturally he’s teamed up with slovenly Chicago wiseass, detective Art Ridzik (Jim Belushi). What’s so entertaining about the pair is how they really never find that common ground so familiar in these stories. Ivan isn’t going to loosen up, and Ridzik isn’t ever going to stop giving him shit. “You think Parakeet is feminine?”
5. Jackson Healey and Holland March (The Nice Guys) – Even though it’s only been out for a few weeks, the duo at the center of The Nice Guys absolutely deserves to be on this list. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling’s Healey and March are perfect as the straight and funny man, and March even has a Lou Costello moment when he stumbles across a dead body. Thanks to the razor-sharp words from writer/director Shane Black (we’ll be discussing him quite a bit in these next few entries), the Godfather of Buddy Action cinema, Crowe and Gosling absolutely sing.
4. Joe Hallenbeck and Jimmy Dix (The Last Boy Scout) – Consider the duo in The Nice Guys as the distant cousins of Shane Black’s Secret Service burnout Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) and disgraced QB Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans). The Last Boy Scout is a cruel and nihilistic – but often super funny – action movie. It hurtles haphazardly through insults and shootouts and car chases with blatant disregard for any sort of political correctness. It could never happen today, and that’s why it should be treasured.
3. Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond (48 Hrs.) – Nick Nolte and Edie Murphy invented the Buddy Action duo with this 1982 gem. Walter Hill’s gritty cop thriller is elevated by a young Murphy infusing his crude early comedic timing into a story about a racist cop begrudgingly working with a paroled crook to bring down a killer. Nolte’s Jack Cates is yet another time capsule character, offensive and racist, and Murphy is more than able to put him in his place by the end.
2. Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mardukas (Midnight Run) – 1988 was the height of the Buddy Action Duo in Hollywood; there are four entries on this list alone. Martin Brest’s story about a bounty hunter (Robert De Niro) tasked with bringing in a former Mafia accountant blends the Buddy Action story with a road film, a chase film, and a well-crafted action adventure. It’s appreciated over time, so much so that the Hollywood Nostalgia Train has decided to make a sequel with Brett Ratner (groan).
1. Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon) – There was ever another option for number one. Even though the adventures of Riggs and Murtaugh didn’t birth the Buddy Action subgenre, Richard Donner’s film (from the screenplay by, of course, Shane Black) is the first film literally everyone thinks about when they think about these films. The Lethal Weapon franchise improved in the second one, then got worse in 3 and 4, but the success of this franchise and the manic energy between Gibson’s crazed cop and Glover’s family man was paid the greatest compliment: years and years of ripoffs.