Tom Jolliffe offers up ten essential buddy films…
Reluctant partners, thrust together. Chalk and cheese, a differing approach to attaining the end goal, or perhaps sometimes from opposite sides of the law. The buddy film genre has been popular for decades. Some writer/directors in fact have a real association with it (see later). It’s a reliable cinematic go to. That inherent friction between those reluctant partners makes for engaging entertainment and it’s also why I tend to prefer reluctant partnerships.
Here are 10 essential buddy films;
Action specialist Walter Hill struck gold with this thoroughly entertaining film which helped break Eddie Murphy into the cinematic big time. There were a number of action films this era which had an artistry that didn’t always get appreciated. In comparison to the modern age of uninspired looking films, with an over abundance of CGI effects, 48 Hours is delightfully of its time. It looks great, really nicely shot, some good set pieces and a brilliant score from James Horner (that doesn’t feel routine).
Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte bounce well off each other. Murphy is at his raw, edgy and fiery best. Nolte, who probably came out the womb sounding like he smokes 1000 fags a day is great as a hard-bitten world weary cop. Throw in some good villains with James Remar and Sonny Landham and you’ve got a great blue-print many followed.
No way you live! Richard Donner’s film, written by Shane Black, took the action genre by storm upon release. This, for my generation, was a ruddy game changer. Every boy my age, lucky enough to have taped it off TV or attained a VHS copy, thought Lethal Weapon was one of the all time greats. The first film remains far and away the best. It’s got all the Shane Black wit you expect (and he’d repeat in a load more buddy films), but the dynamic between Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is what makes the film.
Lethal Weapon is rightly considered an action classic. Great cinematography, great music (Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton), some depth, loads of great lines and opposing our heroes one of the great action henchmen, Mr Joshua, played with snarling bite and intensity by Gary Busey.
Tango and Cash
Two 80’s action stalwarts came together in this underrated and vastly enjoyable action romp. The two best cops in the City are framed and jailed (and yet despite ropey evidence, their guilt is never doubted). What it lacks in logic, it makes up for in rollicking fun.
Sylvester Stallone is the straight laced cop who makes jokes about Rambo being a pussy. Kurt Russell plays a shlub who still gets the job done. The pair riff off each other brilliantly. There’s a good selection of bad guys with Brion James, James Hong and a scenery obliterating Jack Palance.
The Last Boy Scout
Shane Black again. ‘I think I fucked a squirrel to death.’ Here, a former political bodyguard turned down and out P.I is tasked with protecting Halle Berry. She ends up dead and her ex-boyfriend, a shamed ex-footballer with a drug problem teams with him to uncover the truth. This darkly comic, sardonic neo-noir is a classic slice of action comedy.
Bruce Willis opposite Damon Wayans is a great combination, and that is always the secret of these films. If the two bickering reluctant partners create magic, the film works. It took a little while for this film to get the following it deserved, but now it’s a real cult classic. Willis may repeat some John McClane but he’s still great here.
Dark Angel (I Come In Peace)
Switching up the formula somewhat and splicing in some sci-fi, this buddy cop movie crossed with alien invader film sees Dolph Lundgren as a cop with a bad reputation for keeping partners being forced to team up with a jobsworth FBI agent who idolises his boss.
It magpie picks influences from an array of sources, but does so very well. There’s a great selection of set piece thanks to the direction of Craig Baxley, stunt supremo turned director (this was a thing long before Chad Stahelski and David Leitch). Lundgren and his partner, Brian Benben have a good dynamic. Lundgren has rarely been better in a heroic role (as he’s tended to be better as a villain historically). Opposing them is Matthias Hues who looks an immense foe with his platform boots, bleached white wig and all white eyes. The set pieces are enjoyable and alien tech weapons off a lot of fun (particularly flying CD’s). The film for a number of disappointing background reasons, bombed without trace at the box office, but did great numbers on video and is now a cult favourite.
One of Robert De Niro’s first forays into comedy. From the director of Beverley Hills Cop, this is a great film which sees De Niro having to apprehend and transport an accountant who is on the run from just about everyone.
De Niro riffs a little on his tough guy image and Charles Grodin plays to his strengths too. It’s well cast and a lot of fun. This leans predominantly on comedy, with action elements. A number of buddy films that have gone comedy first have tended to suffer from lacklustre action, but with Martin Brest directing, this does everything well.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Shane Black revisited the buddy genre again, just before Robert Downey Jr’s big second breakout with Iron Man. Downey had been back in the spotlight for a few years following several years in troubled wilderness. He’s fantastic here. Likewise, Val Kilmer, who’d also seen his career slowing, had something of a comeback here. He’d almost never been better.
Black made his directorial debut here and it still remains his best film. The low budget, enjoyable and pulpy neo-noir should have picked up a big audience but didn’t. It kind of slowly and firmly grabbed its audience. Black half re-invented it a few years later on a bigger scale with The Nice Guys, but whilst a lot of fun, wasn’t a patch on this (lacking the irreverence of this one).
White Men Can’t Jump
Wesley and Woody. Two basketball hustlers, one a street smart black guy aspiring to break out of his neighbourhood, and a white guy with a compulsive gambling problem are polar opposites who join forces to hoodwink fellow street hustlers and then to win a two on two tournament.
Ron Shelton’s live-wire comedy drama is pure gold and the team up of Wesley and Woody is absolutely sizzling with charisma. Rosie Perez is also fantastic here. The film is overloaded with memorable lines and the basketball sequences are brilliantly put together.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
A business minded and emotionally stunted family man is set on getting home for Thanksgiving. When bad weather grounds his flight, it begins a chain of events on his quest to get to Chicage that sees him partnered and unable to shake off the blundering but good hearted, John Candy.
This. Film. Is…a classic. It’s probably the best seasonal film ever. Steve Martin plays a straight man here. His previous best works in films like The Jerk saw him playing far more overtly comical characters, but he’s very much the straight face opposite the more bumbling Candy. It’s two comedy greats at the top of their game. The effortlessly likeable Candy was such a wonderful cinematic presence too. Greatly missed. This is one of those films I can easily and effortlessly re-watch and never tire of it.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Now it’s not subtle, and as a pairing Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder probably did better films, but I’ve just always loved this. The set up sees a blind man having to partner up with a death man and evade police after becoming murder suspects, all the while running from nefarious criminals who are trying to kill them. It’s a classic caper.
The chemistry between Pryor and Wilder is undeniable. The film sets up a litany of sight gags and silly situations. Of course Pryor, as the blind guy, ends up driving, etc. There’s just so much enjoyment stretched from the premise and the two heroes. Not that it’s a stretch, but Kevin Spacey does slimy villainy in a way that only Kevin Spacey can do, whilst Joan Severance as a sultry femme fatale is great (and it’s always been a wonder why she was so quickly relegated to TV softcore films).
What are your favourite buddy films? Let us know in the comments or on our twitter page @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.