Monday, December 7, 2009

The Buddy Cop-Dog Movie Hierarchy And How To Revitalize The Genre

Roger Ebert coined the term "Wunza Movie" to describe the Buddy Cop film genre—a pun on the phrase "one's a...", used to describe the diametrical differences between the films' main characters.

You know, like:
One's a veteran cop on the verge of retirement—he's trying to kick a bad drinking habit and has a death wish, but underneath his tough exterior, beats a heart of gold. The other's an uptight and naive Mormon who, by happenstance, witnesses a gang-related murder presided on by a high-ranking government official. Together, they must overcome their differences to bring down a corrupt crime syndicate in Salt Lake City.

Sometimes bad guys get parched by the DRY HEAT.
These movies practically wrote themselves in the Eighties.¹

And while there are many permutations of the Buddy Cop formula, perhaps the most enjoyable sub-genre is the Buddy Cop-Dog movie, established in its own right by such hits as K-9, Turner & Hooch, and Top Dog.

K-9 was the first of the three to be released, a full three months before Turner & Hooch, and it starred comedic actor Jim Belushi as a bad tempered detective who partners with a destructive German Sheppard to bring down a drug trafficking operation. K-9 was by all accounts a hit, raking in $43 million in 1989.

Turner & Hooch, however, is widely considered to be the bellwether of the genre, bringing in $71 million in that same year. It starred rising comedic actor Tom Hanks as an obsessively clean detective who partners with a destructive Bordeaux Mastiff to bring down a money laundering operation.

What made Turner & Hooch hands down a better Buddy Cop-Dog movie than K-9 was the fact that Tom Hanks, having already been in such hits as Big, The 'Burbs and Splash, was way more popular than Jim Belushi, who only received starring roles on account of his funnier dead brother.

And another component of success was the fact that as a breed, Bordeaux Mastiffs are inherently funnier looking than German Sheppards. You see, humor is a big part of the Buddy Cop-Dog genre, and if you can't sell the absurdity of the unlikely partnership, everything else suffers in the end.

But Turner & Hooch wasn't just funnier than K-9, it also turned up the drama factor by (SPOILER) killing Hooch at the end of the film. I guarantee you that there wasn't a dry eye in the house when that fucking goofy dog died in the end. That's box-office gold. It was nearly impossible to top as a genre piece.

Top Dog tried just that in 1995, turning the world on its head by casting action star Chuck Norris as a maverick detective who partners with a Tibetan Terrier to bring down a neo-Nazi arm smuggling operation. Needless to say, Top Dog was a huge box-office failure, it only made $5 million.²

The Buddy Cop-Dog movie hence never recovered and America—nay—the world suffers from the loss to this very day.

But if history has proven anything, it's that success in Hollywood is cyclical and what's old is made new all over again. It's just a matter of time before someone tries to revitalize this beloved genre.

So, let's look at the elements needed in order to ensure success:
  • A likable, rising comedic actor.
  • A funny-looking breed of dog.
  • A semi-serious setting within a generic crime plot.
  • A tear-jerking dog death.
And recent films prove that all of these elements are still viable box office draws:
  • Rising comedic actor—> Zach Galifianakis' The Hangover brought in $460 million in 2009.
  • Funny-looking dogs—> Beverly Hills Chihuahua made $149 million in 2008.
  • Generic crime plots—> Paul Blart: Mall Cop brings in $183 million in 2009.
  • Tear-jerking dog deaths—> Marley And Me made $243 million in 2008.
And with that in mind, may I present you with:

(SPOILER: The dog dies in the end, but not before impregnating a bitch with his puppies... SEQUEL!!!)

You're welcome, Hollywood. Now get to it.

¹ I'm not exaggerating—in 1986, Paramount Pictures patented a computer script-writing program called EASE-A (Electronic Automated Script Enlightenment Apparatus.) All it needed for a story was two unlikely main characters, a slew of stereotypes, time-worn clichés, and voilà!—a summer blockbuster's in the bag.

EASE-A cranked out a bunch of hits before becoming self-aware in 1990 and tastefully choosing to self-destruct. The last remnants recovered from its hard drive were later used to construct the successful
Rush Hour series. Seth MacFarlane is also said to have built a similar model from the original blueprints to develop several FOX animated shows.

² Perhaps the fact that it was released only nine days after the Oklahoma City bombing, and the film's plot actually features a gang of militant right-wingers who intend to detonate a bomb in a public place also had a hand in its failure. The film took in a measly $300 on opening night in Oklahoma City, which didn't even cover the film's extensive Chuck Norris beard-maintenance budget.


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