This week sees the local release of 2 Guns, an above average action movie perhaps most notable for how it teams up Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.
As an action movie fan from way back, I love it when Hollywood taps into the venerable tradition of pairing up two name actors for an action movie in which their characters must endure each other for the sake of the film. Doing this provides a great context for movie-enhancing conflict and evolving character dynamics.
It doesn't happen as much as it used to, although we did just have Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat, and Sly is teaming up with Arnie for the upcoming Escape Plan.
To mark the release of 2 Guns and my deep affection for this sub-genre, I'm going to cite the ten best action movie duos in cinema history.
1. Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run (1988)
There is simply no better action comedy in existence, and that's primarily down to the wonderful chemistry between the deadpan Grodin and the gruff De Niro. In addition to hitting numerous action movie sweet-spots, this film actually has some insightful observations to make about male friendship and camaraderie. God I love this movie.
2. Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 48 Hours (1982)
This mismatched buddy action comedy launched a thousand imitators, but few have recaptured its deft blending of violent shootouts and un-PC comedy. The tension between Nolte and Murphy remains palpable throughout, and the movie is refreshingly free of the kind of heart-warmning moments that ruined many of its ancestors. Plus the supporting scumbags are second to none. Let's all agree to ignore the 1990 sequel.
I'm referring specifically to the first film here - by the time part IV came along, this franchise was basically The Cosby Show with guns. It's easy to forget just how many sparks there were between Gibson and Glover in the original outing - Riggs actually seems like an edgy character, and his relationship with Murtaugh adds layers to the film.
4. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
The snipey patter between Willis and Jackson here can almost serve as a response to how cuddly the Riggs and Murtaugh relationship had become - and if the comparisons weren't inevitable enough, the script for this movie was almost used for a Lethal Weapon sequel. The two lead actors have rarely been better, with Jackson's classic cinematic rage bouncing nicely off Willis' hungover schlubbiness.
5. Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans in The Last Boy Scout (1991)
As much as it pains me to put Bruce Willis on this list twice (he seems particularly annoying these days), I simply couldn't overlook this masterclass in action duo dynamics. Shane Black's witty script provides superlative witty banter, much of which is actually about being an action duo. Imagine how awesome a sequel to this could be! With the main duo running a private detective agency together! Please can this happen, thanks.
6. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
This '70s heist drama is something of a cult classic, and it's definitely worth seeking out if you've never seen it. Eastwood plays a bank robber who reluctantly teams up with a young wannabe played by Jeff Bridges. The pair play brilliantly off each other - Bridges is all hyperactive enthusiasm, Eastwood all laconic cool. A surprisingly affecting film, this reminded me of what I loved most about Midnight Run. Eastwood subsequently failed to recapture the dynamic with Charlie Sheen in The Rookie (1990).
I always thought Jackie Chan had better chemistry with Owen Wilson than he did with Chris Rock in the higher profile Rush Hour series. Wilson's reactions to Chan's balletic kung-fu moves never fail to bring a smile to my face, and the former's devilishness compliments the latter's innocence beautifully. Unfortunately Wilson couldn't replicate the success with Eddie Murphy in 2002's I Spy.
8. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys (1995)
Michael Bay displayed considerable reverence for the great buddy action comedies with his break-out hit, and it totally worked on me. Although things got ridiculous in the gargantuan sequel, the original Bad Boys still feels like a loving homage to 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. I've always had a soft spot for Martin Lawrence, and this came out back when it was easier to like the Fresh Prince.
9. Kurt Russell and Sly Stallone in Tango & Cash (1989)
Released at a time when neither man's career was in the best place, Tango & Cash proved that Kurt and Sly could both still deliver the action goods when it mattered. The pairing may have been little more than a novelty, but it was an extremely entertaining novelty inside a perfectly cheesy film. Stallone generated decent laughs making fun of his Rambo persona long before such self-aware humour was commonplace.
I always thought Paul Walker had much better chemistry with Tyrese Gibson in 2 Fast 2 Furious than he did with Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. The pair liven up this not particularly-well-regarded sequel considerably as old pals who must go undercover together to take down a Miami drug kingpin. Naturally I was stoked when the brought Gibson back for parts five and six, but by then the franchise was overflowing with guest stars and ringers. That said, it was fun to see The Rock and Vin Diesel square-off though in part five, and they kinda become a duo in the sixth film.
Just for good measure, here are my five WORST action movie duos:
1. Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke in Harley Davidson and the Malboro Man (1991)
2. Sly Stallone and Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! (1992)
3. Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett in Hollywood Homicide (2003)
4. Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in Cop Out (2010)
5. Jay Leno and Pat Morita in Collision Course (1989)
Favourite action movie duos? Comment Below!