Buddy movies have been a staple of Hollywood nearly as long as there’s been a Hollywood. Early comedy duos like Abbot and Costello and Martin and Lewis entertained legions of fans with wacky cross-country capers, and buddy cop movies have become so common they’re a genre in themselves. The most famous of them, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Lethal Weapon, are a part of most must-see lists – and if they aren’t, they should be.
Sometimes, though, movies slip between the cracks. Even if they have a title that’s well known, they just don’t pop out enough for people to actually give them a try. Here’s a look at seven buddy flicks that I’m a fan of, one or two of which might be what you’re looking for.
Note: Collision Course starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita is not one of them. You should be able to figure out whether that’s your cup of tea based on the poster alone.
Freebie and the Bean James Caan/Alan Aarkin, 1974
It can be argued that the earliest buddy cop movie ever made was made by whoever adapted Sherlock Holmes first, but most of the early buddy films stuck to comedy. It wasn’t until 70s cinema went to work on the detective story that the buddy cop genre took off, and even then it was often a combination of crime procedural and Eddie Murphy comedy.
James Caan as Freebie and Alan Arkin as Bean helped usher in that era in the eponymous movie, Freebie and the Bean, a story about two San Francisco detectives trying to bust a racketeer, while at the same time trying to figure out if Bean’s wife is cheating on him. It also includes a car chase scene that will end up on the list of my favorite car chase scenes when I ever get around to writing one, but it was really Robert Kaufman’s script that made the movie great.
Kevin Smith cites Freebie and the Bean as one of his biggest influences in deciding to make Cop Out, but you can really see him start to try and replicate the chemistry between Caan and Arkin as early as his first film. That’s because even though the two didn’t work together as often and as intensely as the early comedy duos that preceded them, they made it feel like they’d been working together forever.
Let’s Do It Again Bill Cosby/Sidney Poitier, 1975
Many of the most wonderful films of the 70s share the same curse – they were born just a hair too early. Let’s Do It Again has become a cult classic, but mainstream pop culture has let it disappear, overshadowed by the more influential roles the stars would inhabit during their amazing careers.
The film is the second and most famous of an informal trilogy that Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier made in the 70s, making it the best place to start if there isn’t time for a triple feature on the bill. The three play independently of each other, so Uptown Saturday Night and A Piece of the Action can wait – just not for too long.
In the movie, Cosby and Poitier play a pair of buddies that fix a fight by hypnotizing skinny-ass Jimmy Walker into thinking he’s a great boxer. It’s emblematic of the era that the stars play blue-collar collar workers trying to make some money to keep their lodge charter going, it’s also a testament to the two stars that the cast is filled with some of the most well-known names at the time.
Trivia: rap scholars may recognize the film as the inspiration for the rapper The Notorious B.I.G.’s nickname, Biggie Smalls. In this movie, Biggie Smalls is the crazy mobster that chases Cosby and Poitier after he discovers their little scam.
White Men Can’t Jump Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson, 1992
There’s a certain film purgatory called basic cable that some movies end up stuck in for one reason or another. They suffer there, doomed to be played over and over whenever something else can’t be shoved into the time slot, but because they’re on so much most people aren’t in any hurry to watch them.
On the flip side, people that love those movies can watch them over and over again. White Men Can’t Jump is one of those movies with a strong following but not much actual reach beyond a title that’s become an overused punchline.
I have a soft spot for the movie because Dwayne Wayne is in it, and that invariably makes me happy, but the film stands on feet not made up of actor appearances. Wesley Snipes snipes at Harrelson for most of the movie, and Rosie Perez, as Harrelson’s girlfriend Gloria, snipes at him the rest of the time, but the one-liners are just window dressing in front of a solid story about two street hustlers learning to become friends while hustling each other.
Dish Dogs Sean Astin/Matthew Lillard, 2000
At the turn of the millennium, the buddy road trip comedy took a turn towards Introduction to Philosophy 101 when it followed pretentious semi-scholars Morgan and Jason as they travel their way away from the civilization they know, paying for their trip through their zen-like dishwashing skills.
The movie comes across as being about two gits that think they’re much smarter and deeper than they are, but that’s because the movie is exactly that. Like in Lillard’s more popular SLC Punk, the crux of the film is created when the heroes of the story realize that they’re wrong about some things they used to think they were right about, and that’s all right. A good buddy film is made by the chemistry between the buddies, and that’s where Astin and Lillard really shine.
Brian Dennehy as the philosophical guru is a pleasant surprise, and Shannon Elizabeth makes a respectable female lead even with the little screen time she’s accorded in this style movie. An appearance by Richard Moll is worth the price of viewing for any Night Court fans that miss they’re weekly dose of Bull Shannon, if there are any fans of Night Court left out there.
The Last Boy Scout Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans, 1991
Penned by Shane Black and directed by Tony Scott, The Last Boy Scout is one of those under-appreciated films brought up when someone is trying to point out lows in the careers of anyone involved. The movie did well when it came out, but because Willis was coming off Hudson Hawk there was a infectious effect in retrospect that makes people think this movie isn’t great. (Note: Hudson Hawk is also a great movie.)
Coming off hits like Lethal Weapon (another buddy movie) and The Monster Squad, Shane Black was able to sell his screenplay for a record amount of money, adding to the negatives people like to pile on, but it was worth every penny. Willis and Wayans are both known for their delivery of one-liners and insults and there is no better example of their respective skills than in this movie. Many of the lines they deliver are cliche, but they’re cliche because they were done here first.
The story is something that’s become standard in the genre, with Willis playing a down-on-his-luck PI with a stellar former career in law enforcement and Wayans playing the professional celebrity forced to team up with him. A young Kim Coates shows up in the movie as an antagonist that dies a hilarious death, and one of the funniest scenes comes from Bruce McGill – Jack Dalton in MacGuyver.
Paper Moon Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, 1973
Buddy movies are strongest when they odd-couple personalities, but it’s hard to make a realistic buddy movie with people that aren’t really from the same peer group. A good buddy movie is about more than two people trying to get along; it’s about two people that have figured out how to get along so well they aren’t sure how not to get along.
Father and daughter duo Ryan and Tatum O’Neal shined a new light on the buddy film when they played a pair of travelers, one a con man and one an orphaned young girl that may or may not be his daughter. At 10 years old, Tatum O’Neal was the youngest person to ever receive an Academy Award thanks to her work here, a record she still holds. It’s easy to see why. She embodies the role of Addie. Even as a child, she has as strong an onscreen presence of any adult with which she shares a frame.
Most movies with a child/adult dichotomy at the helm are much more odd-couple stories than buddy flicks, but Paper Moon works because Addie’s story is related more to learning how to grow up quick in a world that might end up being cold than it is to dealing with a single adult. It’s coming of age story for her, and that keeps it from being less than great.
Tapeheads John Cusack/Tim Robbins, 1988
Before Catherine Hardwicke became an Oscar-winning director, she worked as a production designer on a string of movies, including Tapeheads. Trivia!
Tapeheads is the story of two best friends that can’t keep a job as security guards and decide to start a video production company instead. They’re surprisingly successful, and hilarity ensues. It’s as farcical a farce as any farce, as far as I can see, but it’s brilliant in that late-80s hyper-absurdity, Max Headroomesque inanity that hasn’t been duplicated in a long time.
Punk fans will especially appreciate the cameo by hardcore icon Jello Biafra as an FBI agent, who arrests the two protagonists on the grounds that they were broadcasting pornography and citing his own experience as an example:
Post importantly – Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles: