Casting Call

What Actors Should Play Buddy Cops?

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In this series, we speculate on what actors would be the perfect choice to play an upcoming character, or what type of character a particular actor is best suited for. Feel free to unilaterally agree with all our picks voice your opinion in the comments!

There are mysterious rumblings that Warner Brothers TV are going to try bottling pure lightning by creating a show called “Lethal Weapon” for the Fox network, thus trying to cash in on the greatest buddy cop duo ever. Are they actually going to replace the Gibson/Glover magnificence that sustained us through one pure beauty of a film, one pretty cracking sequel, and two other things that sure are movies?

I hope they aren’t. Just to make sure I’m not contributing to the delinquency of a production, I will not be speculating on new actors for Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. Instead, I submit that we haven’t had a really good buddy-cop pairing in quite a while, especially in a pure action film. Too often, in order to cater to as many audiences as possible, they treat us to a PG-13 action/comedy hybrid that leans way too heavily on the comedy. Regardless of your Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy or Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan messes, the best way to keep this formula is to lean on the action and the actors’ chemistry with each other.

Having said that, here are four pairings of potential police partners who could crack skulls together and change each other for the better, and the complicated cases or circumstances that revitalize the genre properly. You know, instead of merely taking something dormant and popular and slapping its name on a cheapo replacement.

Robert Downey Jr 2014 Comic Con (cropped)Ellen Wong by Gage Skidmore

1. “Old Cop/Young Cop” – Robert Downey, Jr. and Ellen Wong

Out of the ashes of the 1990s, the SNL reject and legendary inebriate Downey has risen to the highest reaches of stardom. His acerbic delivery of techno-babble and spirited quips as Iron Man and his recent brooding cynicism in The Judge would be perfect for a detective who is sick of the job, but unwilling to abandon a case. Meanwhile, Wong showed us all in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World that she can fight and she can banter with the best. Because Wong’s scatterbrained performance is so opposite Downey’s razor-sharp and off-the-cuff delivery, their characters’ interactions would contain a balance of humor and avarice. Of course, the primary charm of this partnership would be the generational disconnect. She’s a fresh-faced rookie officer with a motor mouth, he’s a dry-witted veteran months from retirement. Together, they are the perfect team to track down the social media-savvy copycat of a long-dead serial killer.

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Brandon Routh by Gage SkidmoreMichael Peña 2014

2. “Snob Cop/Slob Cop” – Brandon Routh and Michael Peña

Routh, the once-Superman and presently The Atom on the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash” has had a strenuous career. He’s a very funny and charming performer, but he can also play a convincing obsessive sociopath and a rough-and-tumble fighter, as he did on “Chuck” in a recurring role. The precision and spotless look of him would work fantastically as a disciplined desk cop. Peña, meanwhile, has recently become a fantastic supporting player in Ant-Man and The Martian. Using his moon-faced, spacey countenance and bro-tastic congeniality from these along with his intense bonafides as a hardcore street cop in End of Watch, he could easily pull off the rule-bending twitchy officer who is willing to fight dirty and shirk standard procedure.

Imagine Routh’s meticulous lead detective being forced to pair up with Peña’s disheveled loose cannon due to his knowledge of a local drug ring. Over the course of their investigation, we’d get fantastic philosophical debates about the merits of fighting crime by the book versus fighting fire with fire.

Ewan McGregor Cannes 2012Cuba Gooding Jr. 2012

3. “Cop/Not a Cop” – Ewan McGregor and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Here is a cast looking for redemption. One went from Oscar gold in Jerry McGuire to barely released bargain bin garbage. One was duped into a three-film, seven-year contract for Star Wars that wasted his talent and action credentials up through his mid-thirties.

While McGregor has been branded the prequel Obi-Wan Kenobi, film fans still remember him as the terrifyingly strung out junkie he played in Trainspotting and more recently as the shadowy black ops director who has a brutal fight scene with Gina Curano in Haywire. This Scotsman’s range and level of commitment to a role would put him in the perfect position to play an undercover officer. Gooding has afforded his career a modest second wind playing wizened men of integrity, such as the attorney supporting the civil rights march in Selma, or old school White House employee Carter in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. He could bring some common sense perspective to McGregor’s cop-on-the-ragged-edge hero.

How about Gooding plays a disillusioned minister who takes to the streets to stop the crime epidemic in his neighborhood and stumbles upon McGregor, who is having trouble reconciling his job as a cop and his almost real life as a criminal. This way one is counselling the other while they uncover the mystery behind a charismatic weapons dealer.

Eliza Dushku 2012 ShankboneRyan Reynolds by Gage Skidmore

4. “Cop/Dog” – Eliza Dushku and… a Dog (also with Ryan Reynolds)

I realize this one is kind of a cheat, but it’s an honorable tradition among buddy cop films to have a brave police officer reluctantly partnered to an animal.

Beautiful and deadly in attitude and physicality, Dushku has shown countless times on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dollhouse” that she can handle the high drama and desperation of a cop looking for a missing comrade. Her stage combat skills have always been impressive, and her smoky voice and cold glares have never been used as effectively as they could be.

Perhaps her detective would be cavalier and work alone, until a four-legged K-9 officer arrives to help her solve the mystery of an organ harvesting black market. Bonus points for sarcastic Ryan Reynolds of upcoming Deadpool acclaim as the charming K-9 trainer who goes missing at the end of the second act, waking up in a hotel bathtub and trying to escape as soon as he can locate his kidney. So while Dushku and her new canine partner are getting to know each other and track down the bad guys, Reynolds is trapped and immobilized and looking for rescue.

Agree? Disagree? Got another idea you’d like to share? Please do! Anything is better than a Lethal Weapon police procedural on Fox, I think we can all agree.


About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.