Central intelligence is in theaters this week, and stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are hoping to hit on the special kind of buddy comedy magic. They aren’t two old friends on trip, but the mixed up oddball action-comedy films. The approach is special, asking each of the players to play on the fish out of water comedy provided by the other. This particular brand of comedies have their roots in the 80s, during the rise of Hollywood’s buddy cop films. But mix-matched comedies still resonate today when the movies are smart and the chemistry strong. Here are 5 of the best of these buddy comedies.
1. Midnight Run
Still cited as one of the funniest comedies ever made, and inspiring more than a few films (Bulletproof, I’m looking at you). Robert De Niro plays cop-turned-bounty hunter Jack Walsh, whose assignment, Jonathan Markukas aka The Duke (Charles Grodin), keeps managing to delay being sent back to Chicago to meet the bail bondsman he screwed (Joe Pantoliano). An accountant responsible for embezzling millions from a drug dealer (Dennis Farina) the movie is wonderfully convoluted with betrayals and complicated relationships. It also proved to audiences that De Niro was as good a comedic actor as he was a dramatic one, and why Grodin needed to be in more movies (actually, he still needs to be in more movies). While the film has a great gritty, low-budget look, fine character actors fill out the supporting roles, and one of Danny Effman’s best scores. But make sure to avoid the made-for-TV sequels.
2. Beverly Hills Cop
This wasn’t Martin Brest’s first foray into the mix-matched buddy movie arena. Four years earlier, Brest directed the now iconic Beverly Hills Cop, and launched Eddie Murphy’s superstar status as a leading man. As Axel Foley, the movie taps everything from Murphy’s stand-up/sketch comedy persona to create a great character to build a movie around (not bad considering the movie originally had Sylvester Stallone attached). But it’s easy to overlook the invaluable contributions made by partners John Ashton (who would also appear in Midnight Run) as Sgt. John Taggart, and especially Judge Reinhold’s Detective Billy Rosewood. As the by-the-books detective and naïve detective, Ashton and Reinhold provide the perfect balance to Axel’s renegade cop, without allowing their characters to simply become set-ups for Foley’s jokes. And let’s not forget another great theme song in this film: Axel F.
Turns out, we already had a great mix-matched buddy cop movie in theaters this year. Disney’s Zootopia paired adorable little bunny Judy Hopps (Ginner Goodwin) a rookie cop, with street smart con-artist fox Nick Wild (Jason Bateman). Hunting down the cause of disappearing predators with the intensity (and complexity) of the movie Chinatown, the movie proved to be a smart and funny look at prejudice in contemporary society. Hardworking Hopps and tricky Wild start their relationship as antagonists, but by the end, their relationship feels genuine and real. The friendly banter between Hopps and Wild happens to be laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally resonate; in no small part because of Goodwin and Bateman’s pitch perfect voice performances. But no scene’s funnier than when Wild turns the tables on eternal optimist Hopps, testing her usual patience when they have to deal with a DMV run by slower than slow sloths.
4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Considering the loyal fan base this movie now has, it’s hard to believe it only had a limited theatrical run. Shane Black’s pre-Iron Man venture with Robert Downey Jr. is a brutal and often hilarious darkly comedic noir. Downey plays a criminal who escapes a failed robbery (and his gunned down partner) by faking his way into a Hollywood movie audition and landing the part. To prepare for the role, he follows private eye Perry (Val Kilmer) on a surveillance job, which kick-starts a long and complicated investigation of possible murder. His unlikable but identifiable performance as cocky Harry was the second chance Downey needed after time away from the screen, and Val Kilmer received much deserved praise for his finely crafted comic performance. Shane Black’s razor sharp dialogue has made this a cult classic.
5. Hot Fuzz
The only film on the list which features two cops, but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s characters couldn’t be less alike. Pegg is 100% serious, all the time as Nick Angel, so good at his job, the other officers want him to stop making them look incompetent by comparison. So he’s sent to a small, crime-less town where police have time to eat cake, and Nick Frost’s incompetent but eager Danny Butterman needs a partner. Frost is infectiously likable as Danny, who learns about fighting crime from action movies and looks at his capable partner like an action hero. But the reason Hot Fuzz is so smart is that infectious sweetness from Danny works not only on the audience, but also on friendless Nick. Directed by Edgar Wright, this third film in their Cornetto trilogy happens to be one of the funniest and smartest movies of the decade.