I was very excited when I first saw a movie poster for the new buddy-cop film “Cop Out”. Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis? I’m there. Where can I pre-buy my movie ticket? I had a sense of nostalgia, thinking of the black cop/white cop films I used to quote on the elementary school playground (“48 Hours”, “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Lethal Weapon”). As I reflected upon these buddy-cop classics, it became clear these films were a true sign of the times and very relevant at the time they came out. Can I say the same thing for “Cop Out”? I’m not quite sure I can. Although the unconventionally humorous Kevin Smith directs the film, the “wise-cracking black cop teamed with the grizzled-veteran white cop” formula for this film is not only trite but also irrelevant to an American audience in 2010. The buddy-cop genre is proven box-office performer, but it takes a bit more creativity and insight to make a buddy-cop film memorable past its weekend premiere. Let’s discuss why the buddy-cop classics were more successful at this.
“48 Hours” is known to be the first definitive buddy-cop film in the genre. This early 80’s film was unique in the fact that it was a comedy/action film that showed the clash of two partners from different racial backgrounds. It also helped that the film was carried by the outstanding chemistry between Nick Nolte and then-newcomer Eddie Murphy (his film debut). It’s also important to know that the film came out at a time when the racial integration was still fresh topic but enough time had passed that it was okay to laugh about in certain situations. This is most notable in the scene where Murphy’s character has his first run-in with his new partner’s favorite the redneck bar (a scene which no doubt helped him earn a Golden Globe nomination for the role). The timing of “48 Hours” made it more edgy than its sequel “Another 48 Hours”, which was still awesome in its own right (Murphy and Nolte in their prime).
“Lethal Weapon” is arguably the best and most well received of all the buddy-cop films. The 1987 film was so successful that it spawned a franchise of 4 films (all decent performers at the box-office). The first “Lethal Weapon” differs from other buddy-cop films in that it doesn’t rely on racial differences between the characters to create the comedy. The nature of Danny Glover’s character (and his character’s family) had a complete disregard for racial conventions and stereotypes that was very similar to the “Cosby Show” family, which was in its hey-day at the time of the film’s release. This reflected a clear change in perception of black families in the media. Also, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson made such an incredible onscreen duo that they didn’t have to resort to anything but their enormous talent to create great comedy amidst the engaging action.
The first “Rush Hour” movie (1998) was both critically well received and a box office monster. “Rush Hour” was very much in the vein of “48 Hours” and “Beverly Hills Cop”, pinning much of its humor on the wisecracking/fast-talking black cop played by comedian Chris Tucker. This film added a different spin on humorous racial/cultural clashes by having black and Chinese cop partners. To the film’s credit, this aspect gave some fresh comedic material not explored by its buddy-cop predecessors. It also included the element of martial arts to the action sequences and allowed Jackie Chan to display his knack for acrobatic/resourceful fight choreography. The international element of “Rush Hour” and its sequels made it more relevant to a broader audience that reflected American Society of the late 90’s. It also helped “Rush Hour” bring in some serious box office receipts abroad, especially for the second and third films (over $238 million combined).