Ponzi scheme victim Ben Stiller and other employees cheated out of their pensions enlist the aid of criminal Eddie Murphy to break into a high-rise apartment and steal back their money in Tower Heist, Brett Ratner’s crime comedy that opens in theaters this weekend. The Ocean’s 11-style caper co-stars Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni and Gabourey “Precious” Sidibe.
The combination of Stiller and Murphy got us thinking how many times Hollywood has paired two leads of different races and put them in a buddy scenario. Maybe moviemakers think that stirring the ethnic pot will produce more flavor. Murphy has already proven its effectiveness in 1982’s 48 Hrs. in which he plays a convict who helps the San Francisco police officer played by Nick Nolte catch a cop killer. 48 Hrs. is not only Murphy’s film debut, it is considered the film that birthed the buddy-cop genre and one that sparked its affinity for multiracial pairings.
Both Murphy and Nolte returned for 1990’s Another 48 Hrs., but by that time other films had exploited its formula for success. Richard Donner’s smash hit 1987 film Lethal Weapon stars Mel Gibson as LAPD Narcotics Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs who, after the recent death of his wife and a meltdown on the job, is reluctantly paired with LAPD Homicide Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). The two paired up for three more sequels, the last one being 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, which added Jet Li and Chris Rock to the ethnic mix.
In 1986’s Running Scared, Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal play oddball police detectives whose unorthodox methods help them solve crimes in Chicago’s North Side. A few years later in 1989 (although it wasn’t released directly to vide until 1992), Jay Leno played a Detroit police officer paired with Japanese cop Pat Morita to recover a stolen Japanese turbocharger in Collision Course.
Years before 48 Hrs. sparked the black-and-white cop combo, Sidney Poitier played a Philadelphia detective who is mistakenly apprehended by small-town Mississippi police chief played by Bill Gillespie in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. The chief demeans Poitier until he realizes his error and releases the man, which frees Poitier to lead a murder investigation in the town and forces the chief to work with him. This could be the first instance of buddy-cop racial reconciliation on film, and one that surely inspired movies like 48 Hrs. and Lethal Weapon.
It remains to be seen if Ratner’s Tower Heist will rake in the cash like his first multiracial matchup, 1998’s Rush Hour. The popular film exploited the culture clash between Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and LAPD Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker). Ratner returned to direct his dynamic duo in both Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3, proving yet again that a little bit of ethnic diversity does the box office good.