6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

The Heat 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

The comedic “double act” is a concept that has been around for at least a century, first gaining popularity in the vaudeville halls at the turn of the last century, and continuing to be implemented through the comedy generations right up to the present. It’s a ploy often used on the presumption that two opposing forces, when forced to collide, can in the best cases result in explosive, uproarious comedy. We’ve seen the likes of comedy duos Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Brooks and Reiner, and Wilder and Pryor team up to produce memorable acts and classic movies. The gimmick has spilled over the borders of pure comedy to inform a genre specific to the medium of film in the years since—that of the buddy cop genre.

The most recent movie to play on these tropes and traditions is The Heat, starring the unlikely team of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and it turned out to be a bit of a surprise hit. McCarthy’s comic abilities took center stage for the first time in Bridesmaids two years ago, while Bullock has tended to steer more towards serious roles lately despite achieving some success in previous comedic work like Miss Congeniality. So you’d think the movie would work with McCarthy being the comic and Bullock being the straight woman, but what ends up happening is McCarthy plays up the improvisational, Will Ferrell-style comedy and Bullock contributes more of the 90s-style slapstick gags. When it works, it works wonderfully and hilariously, enough to warrant a recommendation that people go and see it. But there are plenty of moments when the stars just don’t align.

It’s a tall order to find two stars to head up a comedy with just the right amount of contrast and chemistry. Here are 6 movies that have paired some unlikely comedy duos, to varying degrees of success.

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1) 21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

Anyone who has seen This Is The End knows that Channing Tatum has developed something of a rapport with the rising group of comedians responsible for giving us movies like Superbad and Pineapple Express. But at first, it was unclear whether he would have any chemistry with the established comic talent of Jonah Hill. The result was a pleasant surprise: the two ended up being as much fun to watch on the movie screen as they were in their press appearances leading up to the film’s release. The fact that Hill seems to get along extremely well with his co-stars in virtually every movie, from Tatum to Brad Pitt after Moneyball, makes his douchey persona in This Is The End even better.

I guess my main issue with 21 Jump Street, as enjoyable and funny as it was, was that it took this team of opposites and fell into essentially the same notes as any other duo consisting of a nerd and a jock. They made a bit of a half measure toward subverting these tropes, showing that today’s generation almost looks on the nerd more favorably, but in the end, the movie’s attitude remains that this is a weird, perhaps even regrettable or at least unnatural cultural phase, and the jock will always end up banging the teacher. It’s cause for at least a little bit of ambivalence about Tatum’s comedic ability; it’d be nice to see him find an angle to work against his type of the hunky brute (dancing well doesn’t quite cut it), so that he can be as parodical as Hill and Rogen and Franco and the rest.

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2) Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

If Robert De Niro’s initial phase of acting lasted from Mean Streets to Cape Fear and his newest phase possibly having been ushered in by his work in Silver Linings Playbook, the peak of his second, comedy-focused period is surely the Meet the Parents franchise. His work in Analyze This was enough to convince studios that he could perform well in comedies, and for quite a while, this was his domain, to the point that current generations of movie audiences are surprised to find out that he was one of the most, if not the most, influential and celebrated dramatic actors of the previous 30 years. Teaming him with, or rather, pitting him against Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents was a further progression into a new generation of comedy.

The big surprise here was just how funny Robert De Niro can be. And it’s presumably a result of the seriousness with which he approaches dramatic roles spilling over into the straight approach he takes to comedic characters. So throwing together someone who can earnestly perform ridiculous tasks like De Niro’s character does with one of the most versatile comedic actors turned out to be rather inspired. Stiller can be the ridiculous one, as demonstrated by Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, but he’s also established himself as a really good surrogate character who is faced with a series of awkward or absurd circumstances and is required simply to react in a relatable way to these sorts of events. So while the movie as a whole isn’t quite a masterpiece, it has enough moments between this pairing of performers to make it something of a modern classic.

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3) Rush Hour

Rush Hour 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

You can’t talk about 90s unlikely buddy cop comedies without paying respect to Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. Not only did it skyrocket Chan and Tucker to levels of movie fame they had not enjoyed before or since, it made a name for director and documented douchebag Brett Ratner, who also found the peak of his directorial stardom in 1998. One of the advantages of a movie that sticks to a specific genre is that it gets to participate in conversation with similar movies that have come before it, which makes its departures stand out as conscious decisions to diverge from the perceived standard, and these differences tend to be the greatest pleasures of the genre film experience.

In Rush Hour, a couple of key generic tropes are played with in a way that affects the entire tone of the movie, allowing it to feel fresh in the context of the buddy cop genre, and this is all really accomplished simply by the casting and chemistry of the two leads. The first alteration is makes is in the inclusion of Jackie Chan in the typical American buddy cop story of “partners from two different worlds” that was popular in the 80s. With Chan’s involvement, the genre can shift back and forth between comedy, which Chan always seems to be surprisingly good at, and martial arts, which the genre was not as good at, or at least not as credible. It also plays off the dynamic of the one partner who’s a loudmouth and the other who’s strong and silent, but in this case, there’s a bit of a literal language barrier between the two, which accentuates some of the comedic miscommunications between the two. Ultimately though, what makes this work is the feeling that Chan and Tucker are genuinely enjoying their time together, making their friendship and partnership believable and entertaining. You have to like them. And apparently, audiences liked them enough to support two more movies featuring Lee and Carter.

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4) The Other Guys

The Other Guys 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

I liked pretty much everything about The Other Guys except for the actual movie. The idea of Mark Wahlberg playing the straight man to Will Ferrell’s comedy, the comedic angle towards corrupt financial markets, and the promise of really offering a true parody of the cop genre were all appealing before the movie. And they’re the parts of the movie I remember when I look back on it fondly. But I also sort of remember not being all that drawn in for the majority of the film, which tends to indicate a movie that’s well written and contains a lot of cool ideas but is not quite executed well enough to leave a lasting impression.

Part of this may be due to expectation, or the potential for Ferrell and Wahlberg to really click, which, for me at least, just didn’t seem to be the case in the finished movie. There were moments that were really perfectly realized, and many others that felt flat. I think when Wahlberg plays incredulous he’s usually good, like in I Heart Huckabees, or when he’s just playfully crass, like in The Departed. But in movies like Ted and The Other Guys, the seams in his comedy work show a little too much, the effort put into gag moments being a little too obvious to completely work. And so this is why I thought more of the weight should have been on Ferrell’s capable shoulders rather than Wahlberg’s. He could have been more like Ryan Phillipe in MacGruber or something. I don’t know. For a movie with such promise, casting these two actors with enormously different styles, it got muddled too quickly and dragged too long. Critics who liked it seemed to say they preferred Ferrell and Wahlberg to Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, which is pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise.

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5) Blades of Glory

Blades of Glory 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

Will Ferrell’s other big maybe-not-all-that-great-but-still-pretty-damn-funny-at-times pairing came in 2007’s Blades of Glory, where he shared the screen and the ice with Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder. I think this is a movie that gets better with age, and with a greater appreciation for co-stars like Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, a formidable comedy duo in their own right. Heder was received as essentially reprising the same notes he hit as Napoleon, except perhaps with a bit more sexual ambiguity rather than the defiant asexuality of Mr. Dynamite. Mostly he just antagonizes Ferrell’s character, which he does relatively well. He’s not quite John C. Reilly, but who is.

For better or for worse, this was another Will Ferrell show, depending on the audience’s reception of his antics, and whether his shtick was landing or not. There aren’t many who can go toe to toe with Ferrell, so anyone who teams up with him is wise to be comfortable as more of a supporting player, allowing him to play and take up as much of the screen as he wants. Finding him a capable partner has been relatively rare, and so Heder does a decent job. It will be interesting to see if Ferrell decides to team up with anyone, like Reilly again, or perhaps with Kristen Wiig, with whom he delivered perhaps the single greatest Golden Globe Awards presentation ever. It shouldn’t be that hard to top Blades of Glory. Although if no one else did, Kanye West seemed to really like it.

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6) Get Smart

Get Smart 6 Unlikely Or Perhaps Mismatched Comedy Duos

When you combine, say, Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon in Taxi, or Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy in Bringing Down the House, or let’s just go ahead and say Queen Latifah and any geeky white dude, expectations are already low enough that it’s hard to be disappointed when such a comedy combo crashes and burns. But I have to say, seeing Steve Carell team up with anybody is promising. We’ve seen him recently have tremendous success working with Tina Fey in Date Night and even Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Carell and Buscemi’s partnering was actually downright, well, magical). But it turns out not even Steve Carell’s light can shine when it’s absorbed by the comedic black hole that is Anne Hathaway.

And I still like Anne Hathaway, but in the same way an actor like Steve Carell will say they got into comedy because every time they tried to do serious drama they got laughs, an actor like Anne Hathaway just always feels awkward doing comedy. Or at least she has so far. It’s still possible that she could nail something in the future, or perhaps complement another performer to a satisfactory degree.

I didn’t think I’d find Sandra Bullock very funny in The Heat, but whether it was the surprising writing, beautifully-timed direction and editing, or the sheer force of comedy emanating from Melissa McCarthy’s performance, she does a fine job. What’s especially subversive and exciting about female-driven comedies like The Heat is that the pairings tend to defy expectations and conventions, with the character we’d typically see being essentially made fun of, like Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street, being the joker rather than the jokee.

McCarthy does this in Bridesmaids as well, turning out to be the most stable character in the entire movie. If female comedy duos can consistently produce the type of humor that doesn’t rely on the audience associating with the “cool” character the way male buddy comedies often do, it has enormous potential to rise to the top tier of genre comedy. It almost already has.

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