Bruce Willis is an actor's action hero, stoic and strong but, from an acting perspective, very giving to his co-stars, allowing his characters' often laconic personae to provide opportunities for his co-stars to excel. As such, Willis has some stellar team-ups on his resume. With his latest film, Fire With Fire, hitting Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Download, On Demand and Pay-Per-View on November 6, we thought we'd take this opportunity to look at The Best Bruce Willis Team-Ups. Yippee Ki-Yay.
Richard Donner’s largely forgotten cop thriller is better than you probably think it is, telling the story of a detective (Willis) who needs to escort a convict to the witness stand sixteen blocks away, where he will testify against Willis’s corrupt police brethren. Willis is great, the action is great, but Mos Def, as the convict, is just… weird. He adopts this bizarre method acting accent that’s probably supposed to turn his role into a tour de force but winds up just being distracting. Not distracting enough to ruin the film, just distracting enough to knock the film down to our #10 slot.
In M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to his surprise megahit The Sixth Sense, also starring Bruce Willis, the director decided to bring superheroes into a strange kind of grounded reality. Bruce Willis plays a security guard who turns out to be the lone survivor of a catastrophic train accident, and as a result realizes that he can’t ever remember being hurt. Samuel L. Jackson plays “Mr. Glass,” a comic book enthusiast with a rare bone disease who tries to train the world’s first superhero in the ways of the mythology. Willis and Jackson play off each other perfectly, but the film’s somber tone and weirdly truncated ending keep it from being a classic.
No, not Bruce Willis’s weird pseudo-chemistry with Ben “I’m Doing Weird Things to Your Daughter with Animal Crackers” Affleck, and no, not some sort of award for the film’s stellar supporting cast that includes Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan and Will Patton. We’re giving this one up for Willis’s weirdly perfect chemistry with half-crazed (and later all-crazed) sidekick Steve Buscemi, who goes insane during their clandestine mission to blow up an apocalyptic meteor. How have these two not paired up for a buddy cop movie, anyway? Crazy Buscemi played perfectly off of Willis’s straight man schtick.
The Fifth Element
Some believe that The Fifth Element is a great, groundbreaking and exciting science fiction movie… except for Chris Tucker, who appears halfway through the film, contributes nothing to the film and squeals each of his lines like they were powersliding down a highway. Personally, we love him in this movie, because he’s the ultimate Bruce Willis sidekick, turning each of Willis’s sidelong glances into comic gold that make Tucker seem like the comedy amateur.
Barry Levinson’s crime caper is a little long in the tooth at over two hours, but Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton make the most of that running time as two mismatched partners in crime who become world class bank robbers and kidnap, and both fall in love with, a never-hotter Cate Blanchett in the process. Willis is the cool as nails professional criminal type. Thornton is a neurotic spaz ruled by his hypochondria. Together they somehow make it work, especially in an ending that defies all cinematic and social conventions.
The Last Boy Scout
The late Tony Scott directed this beloved 1990s action/noir hybrid about a private detective (Willis) who teams up with an ex-football player played by Damon Wayans to solve a mystery involving professional sports and murder. Shane Black’s clever screenplay and Scott’s macho direction are a great fit for Willis and Wayans, who’s almost good enough to make us forget all about Blankman. Almost.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
After the first two films in the Die Hard franchise made the phrase “It’s Die Hard in a [Blank]” a cliché, he went outside the box for the third installment, which gave John McClane a new, wily nemesis played by Jeremy Irons, a plot that sends him from one corner of New York to the other (as opposed to keeping him confined) and a new partner who hates being there in the first place, played by Samuel L. Jackson, in their first proper team up. The “irony” of a black character being a racist feels a little PC now, but their chemistry was relatively fresh. They didn’t hate each other, just they resented each other’s existence, and somehow banded together to save the day anyway.
The Sixth Sense
Bruce Willis’s first collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan was the runaway success The Sixth Sense, which teamed child psychologist Willis with a troubled young boy with ESP played by an Oscar-nominated Haley Joel Osment. It wasn’t Bruce Willis’s first on-screen team-up with a child actor, but unlike North it actually worked: Osment softened Willis’s hardened veneer, while Willis’s understated acting style allowed his young co-star to really shine.
Bruce Willis’s best team-up may also be his strangest, because he spends the practically the whole movie with Reginald VelJohnson but barely shares a minute of screen time with the actor. As John McClane, a New York cop trapped in a Los Angeles skyscraper with heavily armed thieves, Willis finds a kindred spirit in VelJohnson, a beat cop first responder who acts as the only other voice of reason in a film that satirizes beaurocratic incompetence at every turn. Together they are the everyman who overcomes all odds, while actually sharing their humanity together, a “Badass Cinema” rarity. It’s a team up for the ages, Bruce Willis movie or not.
Full Disclosure: The article has been sponsored by Lionsgate.