Throwback Thursdays: Buddy Cop Duo

In the 1980’s, action movies were all the rage, and with the progress of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Hollywood decided to include more African-American actors into these block buster hits. However, rather than promote an African-American duo a à la Bad Boys, Hollywood decided upon the interracial buddy cop system. These “racially sensitive” movies would follow a formula that would be followed for most of the 1980s. The white cop would be somewhat mentally disturbed but over all a serious and more relevant character, while the black cop would play to comic relief with his wacky sidekick shenanigans, think Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. The two will inevitably rub each other the wrong way, slowly but surely learn to work with one another and a solid bromance will form with sarcastic humor and witty banter included.

1. Die Hard 1, 2 and 3

In the Die Hard series, John “Yipee-ki-yay motherfucker” McClane defeats evil villains (notably always German or African American) through a series of extremely courageous and wildly stupid action scenes. His reckless behavior and slight mental imbalance is typical of the white buddy cop as are his lone antics. His black buddy cop sits in the car eating twinkies in Die Hard 1, talks to him on the phone in Die Hard 2 or does get involved but only to an extent because as Samuel L Jackson says in Die Hard 3: “Thats a white man with white problems, you deal with it!”. In these films it is the white buddy cop that takes charge while the black buddy cop takes his place as his sidekick.

2. Lethal Weapon 1, 2, 3 and 4

In the Lethal Weapon franchise there appears to be true equality. Yes, Riggs is the young, white, hot shot with mental issues and flowing hair but Murtaugh is the experienced veteran who has a good head on his shoulder and a stable, middle class family to go home to. Riggs is suicidal, Murtaugh is “too old for this shit”. Both drive the cop car, both get involved in the action and both save the day. Unheard of equality in an 1980’s interracial buddy cop movie! In fact Clive Bannister says that the Lethal Weapon movies are THE interracial buddy cop movies; their focus is on the duo themselves not terrorism, crime, justice or alien invasion, just good old buddy cop friendship.

3. Men In Black 1, 2 and 3

Speaking of alien invasion…Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are the unlikely couple who team up while working for the extraterrestrial police force. The two wear identical uniforms, have identical gadgets and are are more or less equal in screen time. While the film does hold some of the typical characteristic of a buddy cop film, for example the white cop is more serious and competent while the black cop is more goofy comic relief they seem to find a more equal balance. Smith makes a fool of himself when landed with the smaller gun while Jones manages himself with unblinking grace at all times, but that could be put down to experience rather than race. In fact, the film draws attention to the duos age difference more than anything else, with Jones as the old veteran and Smith as the energetic young rookie. The difference in race between Jones and Smith is never brought up because they’re too busy dealing with an alien race! To bring up the differences between black and white would seem stupidly trivial next to the differences of human and alien.

Honorable Mention: Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy is quite possibly one of the most famous black cop buddies in movie history between his roles in Beverley Hills Cops 1, Beverley Hill Cops 2, 48 Hours and Another 48 Hours. However just because he played the role multiple times does not mean that it necessarily got any better. In his book ‘Detecting Men: Masculinity And the Hollywood Detective Film’, Philip Gates points out that although Murphy is the central hero of Beverly Hills Cops, he is assisted by not one but two white cops. He also notes that in the majority of interracial buddy cop movies, its is a black cop serving white America for example Murphy putting himself on the line to serve a very white, upper class Beverly Hills. 

The black cops of these movies are often undervalued and overlooked but as it is, they show no signs of slowing down. In 2010 Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan made Cop Out, this year Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are coming out with 2 Guns, and in 2014 Seth Rogen and Kevin Hart will supposedly be making a movie about the first ever interracial buddy cop duo. We can only hope that these movies continue to improve, the twinkie eating sidekick fades out and a more stable equilibrium is found between these two cop buddies!

– Sinann Fetherston

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