Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, James Remar, Sonny Landham, David Patrick Kelly, Annette O’Toole, Jonathan Banks
Plot: A pair of cop killers terrorise LA, forcing gruff bulldog cop (Nolte), to release their partner, Reggie Hammond (Murphy) on 48 hour parole to track them down.
While Lethal Weapon earns the prize of being the father of buddy cop movies, there were some earlier efforts that earn a lot of praise for setting the wheels in motions to the sub-genre. While its origins are far earlier, there is something so 80s about the concept that we are often drawn back to that particular decade for the most iconic examples. It doesn’t get more 80s than 48 Hours: moody cops spouting racial slurs, the neon signs punching a hole in the seedy LA underbelly and more importantly, Eddie Murphy at the height of his career.
Maybe its dedication to be as 80s as possible means that it does feel more dated than other examples of buddy cop movies. Lethal Weapon feels more accessible, making it timeless as far as cinema goes. Die Hard’s holistic approach to the action genre makes it as hard-hitting today. Even those seeking Eddie Murphy’s brand of action comedy would be much better suited hunting down the first Beverly Hills cop entry. However, understand the rules of the 80s cop genre and there is some fun to be had in 48 Hours. The premise is simple to not distract from the thrills. Its bad guys are so broadly painted if it wasn’t for the likes of James Remar or Sonny Landham, they wouldn’t even register. They show up in the opening sequence, do some bad stuff, do some more bad stuff to the lead hero a little later and then disappear until the end of the movie. They are the kind of disposable villain that these kind of movies thrive on, which does hurt some of the excitement levels, but also keeps the movie running at a brisk pace. The supporting cast are also thread-bare. David Patrick Kelly pops up to keep the story moving along in a logical and orderly pace. Annette O’Toole is there to give Nolte’s abrasive cop a softer side, but no one is quite sure what to do with her. There are also smaller moments that you cannot wish were softened a bit more. This is a very loud movie. The police are age-appropriately aggressive and unhelpful. Uplifting character beats could have spent a little longer being developed. Yes, time has not been on 48 Hours side, but it does have two major plus points. Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy.
This is a film made or broken by its leads. Eddie Murphy is the predictable bonus of the movie and probably the main attraction. He simply shows up as acts like Eddie Murphy for two hours. No, as I said before, he isn’t quite as fast-talking or cheeky as he is in Beverly Hills Cop, but he is hardly under-written. A smooth-talking criminal who is always the smartest guy in the room at any given time, has six months left of his sentence, where there will be a massive stash of cash waiting for him upon his release. As he tries to tip-toe around the story to keep his sentence short and his cash hidden, there is a sense that he is let down by his inescapable need to wind people up and seek excitement. As Nolte hunts the bad guys down, Murphy is more concerned about getting laid in the short time he has of freedom. Cue two hours of Murphy watching other cops do their thing and mocking the whole affair from the side-lines. His comebacks of Murphy quality and his natural charisma fuels the film on its own. The stand-out scene is all down to Murphy. A lead takes the partners to a biker bar, who are less than tolerant of black people. Walter Hill gives Murphy the scene of a lifetime, where he gets to turn every racist cop cliché on its head and aim it at the whites. It is a side-splittingly funny scene and up there with some of Murphy’s best stuff. This doesn’t make Nolte the straight guy of the movie though. Nolte might be written as a bunch of stereotypes stapled together and called a day, but it is the nature of the performance that brings the depth from the character. He is a tough pill to swallow, almost shooting himself in the foot constantly through the movie. One cannot help but wonder if the case would be as taxing if Nolte stopped being so bullish and confrontational and just let the case flow of its own accord. But there is a sense that Nolte doesn’t want to be the guy he is. Aggressive shouting matches with his girlfriend are always followed with quiet regret, as though Nolte is kicking himself for letting that fight get so abusive. He is weighed down by the consequences of his actions, namely the fact his mistakes armed the killer with his own gun. He is surprisingly hard to hate, especially near the end when him and Murphy begin working like a real dynamic. That leads to a suspenseful show-down in a foggy, neon alley that gives the movie the full stop it needs to be deemed a cop classic.
Final Verdict: Dated and rough around the edges, but Walter Hill’s cop movie stands out, namely due to a pair of fine leads.