The Nine Strangest “Buddy Movie” Team-Ups

Pat Morita and Jay Leno in Collision Course

Ah, the buddy movie. We don't see too many of them anymore, do we? But during the '80s and '90s this was a staple genre. Perhaps it all started with the offbeat pairing of Eddie Murphy, then only known for his work on Saturday Night Live, with serious actor Nick Nolte in 48 Hours, which became a box office smash and inspired countless imitators, from hits like Lethal Weapon (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) and Midnight Run (Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin) to misses like Hollywood Homicide (Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett) and Loose Cannons (Gene Hackman and Dan Aykroyd). The whole point of these movies, of course, is the comic friction between two mismatched leads. But the following nine films exhibit highly questionable casting choices:

  1. Jay Leno and Pat Morita, COLLISION COURSE (1989). This stinker was barely released. With a duo like The Karate Kid's elderly Morita and non-actor Leno (during his Tonight Show guest-hosting days), you may understand why.
  2. Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, WHITE NIGHTS (1985). This Cold War thriller starred Baryshnikov as – guess what? – an expat Russian ballet dancer. The crazy plot involves him conveniently trapped back in the USSR and stuck with apparently the lone African-American to ever defect to the Soviet Union (tap dancer Hines, who had a more successful buddy movie pairing with Billy Crystal in Running Scared). Costars Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini fared better, as did Lionel Richie's Oscar-winning theme song "Say You Say Me".
  3. James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, ALIEN NATION (1988). This sci fi cop movie was a modest hit, even inspiring a television series, but it's a mystery why the casting director thought that Broadway singer Patinkin – who had acquitted himself well enough as the swashbuckling Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride a year earlier – would make not only a good reptilian alien, but a good foil to bigoted human policeman Caan.
  4. Sylvester Stallone and Estelle Getty, STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992). Do I really need to say anything about this?
  5. George Burns and John Denver, OH GOD! (1977). This existentialist comedy was a big hit in its time, and it still holds up well today. But let's face it: while casting comedian Burns as God was an inspired idea, casting nerdy country/pop singer Denver as anything was just... weird. (It was his only starring role in a theatrical feature.) Though I must say, if you need to fill the role of a humble grocery store manager and you only have international music superstars to choose from, John Denver is your man.
  6. Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Belushi, HOMER AND EDDIE (1989). Knowing that somebody actually made a movie with Belushi as a retarded man and Goldberg as a psychopath who helps him find his dying father almost makes me lose all hope.
  7. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, DOUBLE TEAM (1997). What's saddest about Double Team is not that it provided the talent-free basketball player/media whore Rodman yet more exposure, but that it was to be the Hollywood breakout for the amazing Hong Kong director Tsui Hark. No dice: after helming one more Van Damme dud, he returned to his homeland with his tail between his legs.
  8. Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis, THE STING II (1983). There is a certain subgenre: the sequel to a big movie where the original stars want too much money to return, so they're replaced by whoever the producers can get. Think of Grease 2, with a pre-fame Michelle Pfeiffer and a never-famous Maxwell Caulfield subbing for Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, or of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, where even the B-list actors of the original, John Goodman and Rick Moranis, bowed out and were replaced by D-listers Mark Addy (the fat guy from The Full Monty) and Stephen Baldwin. And then there is The Sting II, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford's chemistry was not quite matched by a long-past-his-prime Jackie Gleason and curly-haired country singer Mac Davis.
  9. Walter Matthau and Robin Williams, THE SURVIVORS (1983). Folks, I'm only listing the first nine movies that come to my head. The very existence of this bomb, which matched up the laconic, underrated Matthau with the hyperactive, overrated Williams (pitted against a villain played by country singer Jerry Reed, no less!), hints that, after some digging through the archives, one might come up with dozens of other examples of misguided buddy casting. Suggestions are welcome.