Starting Nine is the method a lineup nerd uses to rank his personal favorites. These are not necessarily the nine all-time best entries of the subject being covered. It’s an exercise in finding the entries that best fit the profile for each spot in the batting order.
I’m a lineup traditionalist: I like dependable table-setters in the 1 and 2 spots, world-beating franchise powerhouses 3rd and 4th, potent sluggers 5th and 6th, hard-nosed role players 7th and 8th, and an underrated, dirt-dog workhorse in the 9-hole.
I’m looking for at least one of three things in a great action movie sidekick.
- A spare set of hands to execute some critical tasks because the hero can’t possibly do everything on his own.
- Some great laughs to periodically give us a break from all the tension and conflict.
- An effortless likeability to reflect the goodness of the hero. No matter how intense, surly, or troubled the hero may seem to be, how bad could he really be if this dude likes him?
To me, all three of the above qualifiers hold equal importance. They all play a part in either reflecting the importance of the hero’s journey or unveiling telltale layers to the hero’s personality. Only two or three of the guys in my lineup, none of which are even in the heart of the order, serve all three functions. This goes to show that the production of a good sidekick, much like the production of a good hitter, is not strictly about the numbers. Intangibles matter just as much in the sidekick game as they do in the game of baseball.
1. Leo Getz – Lethal Weapon 2
No surprise at all that one of the greatest supporting actors we’ve ever seen hits leadoff. We all know Joe Pesci can play a criminal, but a lovable miscreant role like this felt decidedly un-Pesci for anyone who saw Goodfellas before they saw Lethal Weapon 2. He pulls it off in spades though, playing the annoying pissant just as well as he plays the amiable buddy, depending on what is needed for each scene. We even buy into Leo assuming the kidnapped-damsel-in-distress role for the climax, allowing director Richard Donner to drastically increase the tension by ***spoiler alert*** giving Martin Riggs a second dead love interest to avenge. The “They f*** you at the drive-through!” rant was funny enough to be revisited in the next two sequels, just one testament to how crucial Leo Getz became to the Lethal Weapon franchise.
2. Odysseus – Troy
The one character in this movie with a decent head on his shoulders, Odysseus is not interested in eternal glory, the will of obscure deities, or risking his country for the lust of an idiotic relative. All he wants is to win the Trojan War so he can go home in peace. Anytime something sensible needs to happen, Odysseus gets the call. From convincing Achilles to go to war, to patching things up between Achilles and Agamemnon, to thinking outside the box and putting an end to this damn war, Odysseus is a logical tactician among a menagerie of self-righteous simpletons. “You have your sword, I have my tricks. We play with the tools the gods give us.”
3. Zeus Carver – Die Hard with a Vengeance
With all due respect to Sergeant Al Powell, Zeus is the only Die Hard sidekick with a screen presence that matches John McClane’s. He figures out who’s going to St. Ives, he knows the elephant joke, he starts a car with a switchblade, he even has the balls to pull a gun on 20 gangbangers so a white cop won’t get killed in Harlem. By the end, this racist electrician is repelling via tow cable off a 100-foot bridge to save Chester A. Arthur Elementary School. This is peak “angry Sam Jackson,” which is really saying something, since “angry Sam Jackson” encapsulates about 95% of the 7,000 roles of Samuel L. Jackson’s career.
4. James Gordon – The Dark Knight
Until Christopher Nolan came along, Commissioner Gordon was usually on the periphery of most Batman TV and movie renditions. Gary Oldman’s Gordon, however, embraces Batman’s fight against crime and corruption with as much vigor and dedication as the Dark Knight. He has the ethics to restrain himself from going full-on vigilante like Batman, while still having the good sense to understand that Harvey Dent’s legal maneuverings alone will never be enough to clean up Gotham. The sight of his face is arguably the emotional apex of the entire trilogy when ***spoiler alert*** we find out that he was the one driving Dent’s paddy wagon. “We got ya, you son of a bitch.”
Gary Oldman is awesome at everything.
5. Michael McManus – The Usual Suspects
A “top-notch entry man” that can drop two bodyguards with head shots in the dark and mow down a couple dozen mobsters with an automatic rifle. McManus comes off like a borderline psychopath when he first meets crooked-cop-turned-legendary-crook, Dean Keaton, antagonizing and coercing the aspiring restauranteur into abandoning his plight to go straight. We don’t come to understand the true depth of respect McManus actually has for Keaton until Keaton calls for the crew from the sham police lineup to meet with the shadowy Kobayashi, which McManus begrudgingly accepts. By the end of the film, McManus is willing to kill on Keaton’s orders and walk into “certain death” because the accomplished ex-cop is there to lead the way.
6. Dwayne Hicks – Aliens
A mere corporal when he is left as the highest ranking soldier following the colonial marines’ first run-in with the Xenomorphs, Hicks is not too proud to collaborate with Ripley, a female civilian, to figure out how to survive the increasingly terrifying situation they face together. Their mutual attraction remains unspoken, but their mutual respect is crystal clear. Ripley’s intelligence and resourcefulness leads the way while Hicks prepares the few remaining “absolute badasses” for a final stand that may face worse odds than any protagonists have ever seen in film history.
7. Albert Gibson – True Lies
Back-to-back James Cameron farmhands in the latter-half of this lineup.
Far from the best agent on Omega Sector’s roster, Gib’s employment appears to depend on riding the coattails of his partner, the superhero-like Harry Tasker. Gib even blew a six-week operation once because he was busy getting a Lewinsky. He serves two purposes in True Lies, both of which he accomplishes perfectly:
1) to stumble hilariously along behind Harry in pursuit of terrorists
2) to give Harry a scary glimpse into what his marriage is on pace to become.
“What kind of a sick b**** takes the ice cube trays outta the freezer?!”
8. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw – Top Gun
Despite being the least homoerotic thing about Top Gun, Goose is the lone emotional connection that Maverick has with anyone throughout the first half of the film. Maverick fails to heed Goose’s repeated warnings of restraint pre-jetwash, then afterward feels lost without his friend backing him up (“Talk to me, Goose”). Whether serving as Mav’s RIO in the cockpit of an F14 or singing backup vocals when a pretty girl has lost that lovin’ feeling, Goose may be the signature sidekick of 80s action movies.
“Great balls of fire.”
9. David “Rocco” della Rocca – The Boondock Saints
Beyond comic relief, Rocco is largely useless to the plight of Connor and Murphy McManus. He has a barroom turkey shoot and scouts a couple targets for the boys, but all in all he hinders a hell of a lot more than he helps. Alas, the agents of aequitas and veritas love the guy, and they resolve to keep him around on their quest to rid the world of evil men (“Just one rule: no women, no kids”). His contribution to the movie, however, is still crucial because Rocco is one of the most hilarious sidekicks of all time. Whether he’s “bringing closure” to his relationship with his junkie girlfriend or demonstrating the diversity of the f-word, Rocco keeps us in stitches for virtually every moment he’s on screen. This is truly one of the most underrated supporting roles of the past thirty years.