There’s the Zen master and the hot-head. The rule-bender and the goody-two-shoes. The criminal-with-a-badge and the tormented soul. Sure, the details may differ, but the best police movies are the ones where two partners bicker like an old married couple, butt heads, or even set each other up to fail. After all, if all the cops were stand-up guys, who would help beautiful women realize the futility of resisting the charms of incorrigible bad boys? This top ten list rides shotgun in the squad cars of cinema’s best good-cop bad-cop pairs, counting down from hilarious to homicidal. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course.)
10. Righteous Kill (2008)
It may be a by-the-numbers genre exercise, but Righteous Kill still merits tenth place for what might have been. (Hey, it was this or Starsky & Hutch.) Audiences have been pining for De Niro and Pacino to pair up for decades. Here they play Rooster (Pacino) and Turk (De Niro), who definitely look like they’re getting too old for this sh-t. The longtime partners are on the trail of a vigilante dispatching baddies who’ve evaded justice. All signs (including the taped confession at the beginning) point to Turk being the bad cop. Gee, who do you think done it?
9. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Sure, Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman are more like good cop/incompetent cop, but Hot Fuzz embraces every cop buddy flick cliché, earning the odd couple a place on this list. Ace officer Angel has little time and less patience for his new partner, the bumbling son of the local police chief. Until, that is, Danny introduces him to the glories of Bad Boys II. Thus prepared, when “Crockett and Tubby” uncover an evil conspiracy in their sleepy village, they’re ready to “lock and load” and fly sideways through the air, guns blazing.
8. Tango & Cash (1989)
The final buddy movie of the ’80s stars Sylvester Stallone (fastidious Tango) and Kurt Russell (slobby Cash, feathered hair in rare form) as rival L.A. cops forced to band together to clear their names. A vindictive drug lord sets up the narcotics cops for the murder of an undercover F.B.I. agent, a crime that lands them in a maximum security prison with many of the criminals they helped put away. A soap-dropping shower scene that has to be seen to be believed and a spectacular prison break (ditto) rate an eight.
7. Rush Hour (1998)
Motormouth Chris Tucker and martial arts master Jackie Chan are a crime-fighting duo made in high-concept heaven. Chan’s Chief Inspector Lee (good) comes to L.A. to help find the Chinese consul’s kidnapped daughter and ends up paired with lone-wolf LAPD detective James Carter (bad). Of course, the cops can’t stand — or understand — each other at first. And, of course, they ultimately bond together to save the day. The nonstop wisecracks and jaw-dropping stunts (not the hackneyed plot) speed this one to seventh place.
6. Bad Boys II (2003)
Michael Bay one-ups Rush Hour director Brett Ratner and bests the plot of Tango & Cash handily with his second pairing of Will Smith (Mike) and Martin Lawrence (Marcus) as undercover narcotic cops. This time, Mike (who’s not so much “bad” as he is a player) and family man Marcus take on a Cuban drug kingpin who’s flooding Florida with Ecstasy that he smuggles into the country in coffins. The Boys rate a six because the plot is really just an excuse for the bickering partners to trade quotable one-liners in the midst of eye-popping car chases, shoot-em-ups, and explosions.
5. Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
Good things come in threes. Which is why out of all the Lethal Weapon movies, the third is being singled out as the pinnacle of this good cop/crazy cop franchise. Riggs (Mel Gibson) is still nuts — and check out his hair — and long-suffering Murtaugh is so old for this sh-t that he’s a mere eight days away from retirement. Then blue wires are cut, buildings explode, and the buddies are demoted. Add Rene Russo as a hot Internal Affairs cop and an armored car wrong-way freeway chase and 3 adds up to five.
4. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Unorthodox Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a badass saddled with not one but two good cops when he travels to Los Angeles to investigate the murder of his friend Mikey. Said cops, Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggert, are supposed to keep an eye on Axel, but up end joining the streetwise maverick in taking down the evil drug lord (who’s surprised?) behind the killing. But Cop gets the number four spot thanks to Foley’s foul mouth and its awesome (Pointer Sisters! Vanity 6! Glenn Frey!) ’80s soundtrack.
3. Colors (1988)
Aging officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall) and his new partner Danny McGavin (Sean Penn) are assigned to C.R.A.S.H., which just might be the best Los Angeles police task force acronym ever. It stands for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, and its mission is taking on street gangs. Rule-bending realist Hodges is a bit too go along-get along for hot-headed rookie McGavin’s liking; he just wants to bust gang-bangers’ heads. These sparring partners get fourth place precisely because each guy sees the other as the bad cop, which is what makes them so good.
2. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Bright boy Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the scion of a Los Angeles police dynasty. Which of course means he’s going to butt heads with rough and tough rule-breaker Bud White (Russell Crowe). But when the facts don’t add up after a shooting at an all-night diner, the odd couple joins forces with oily celebrity-chasing Jack Vincennes to uncover the truth. Just missing the top spot, Confidential mines the seamy underbelly of bright and shiny L.A., turning up mobsters, pornographers, prostitutes, and corruption at the highest levels.
1. Training Day (2001)
Saint Denzel plays totally against type as corner-cutting hustler Alonzo Harris. The veteran narcotics detective is paired with a bright, white rookie named Jake (Ethan Hawke), who watches in wide-eyed horror as Alonzo demonstrates his highly questionable techniques for policing South Central. Alonzo forces his partner to smoke a joint laced with PCP, beats suspects, and takes bribes. Is he simply testing Jake or is this actually how Alonzo rolls? Who cares. Alonzo’s grandstanding makes Day number one with a bullet.
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