Walter Hill’s “buddy” cop film, 48 Hrs. was released in 1982, on the earlier end of the 1980s buddy cop film spectrum. This film is not a traditional buddy cop movie, however. It features a cop who is able to get a criminal temporarily paroled to him in an attempt to use his expertise to help find two cop killers. Sadly, the unlikable characters, lack of character or tonal balance, and pacing problems result in 48 Hrs. being a film that can and should be overlooked.
The movie’s story features escaped prisoners who go on a rampage. Two of the criminals’ victims are detectives and compatriots of Jack Cates. This sets Cates in a tailspin where he decides to seek vengeance, no matter the cost. In order to bolster his chances of finding the men, Cates has Reggie Hammond temporarily released from prison to assist in the hunt.
48 Hrs. does have some pacing problems. First and foremost is the fact that it derails the chemistry between Cates and Hammond. As the film progresses, the interaction between the two characters approaches a sweet spot. However, this is interrupted and the two men’s tempers flare and they get into a fight. This brings the pacing to a halt. It slightly recovers, but remains bogged down by the fact that both Cates and Hammond, and nearly every other character in the film, is detestable.
The film’s tone is steeped in a revenge tale that attempts to put a unique spin on the buddy cop subgenre. Whereas some later buddy cop films may feature one of the duo being erratic or seemingly unhinged, 48 Hrs. introduces a criminal to partner with the cop. Though ostensibly original, this element is hindered by the fact that both characters are supremely repulsive. This results in a dearth of balance as the scales are decidedly tipped in a way that augments the unlikable traits of each character.
For example, Cates has a short temper with both his girlfriend and co-workers. His girlfriend is actually the most likable character in the film, though she has little screen time. She keenly states that with Cates’ actions, it should come as no surprise to him that nobody in the police office likes him. She even decides to get away from him. When the film’s most congenial character is in a small supporting role, and she actively distances herself from the principal that is a strong indication of problems plaguing the writing, pace, and tone. Hammond, on the other hand, is so vulgar in his dialogue that he is just as obnoxious and churlish as Cates.
The performances in 48 Hrs. are actually fairly decent from an acting standpoint. My primary critique is that the writing is lackluster. This affects both the film’s overarching pace and tone. That being said, for being cantankerous, brusque characters, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy do a good job in bringing those elements to life. Nolte is effective in illustrating Cates’ emotional unease. Murphy’s portrayal of Hammond captures the character’s hedonistic, arrogant traits. Sadly, the poor writing deters Nolte and Murphy from having strong on-screen chemistry.
James Remar and Sonny Landham portray the criminals, Ganz and Billy Bear, respectively. I did not like Ganz’s odd knit sweater tank top. Not only is it an ugly article of clothing, but it is really unique and would be something that would stand out and prevent Ganz from camouflaging with the rest of the populace. Nevertheless, Remar and Landham do a convincing job in showing the brutality of the escapees.
The cinematography in 48 Hrs. is good, but offers no memorable sequence or shots. There is a scene, however, where one of the villains shoots eight bullets from a revolver. This is evident as they just kept firing with no concern for reloading. This should have either been corrected while filming or ameliorated in the editing bay.
Walter Hill’s direction of 48 Hrs. is, sadly, undistinguished. The myriad of problems with the story and writing and the impact they have on the pace, tone, and core elements of the characters reflects negatively on Hill. As a result, the film is mired in these problems that make the final cut feel like every element, save for the acting, because it is reflective on the script, should have undergone several more phases of editing.
In the end, 48 Hrs.’s acting alone cannot rescue the film from its countless troubles. One of the key elements of a buddy-style of film is striking a unique and amiable balance between the characters. 48 Hr. fails to do that as both characters are revolting. This results in pacing and tonal headaches as well. If you are looking for a 1980s-styled buddy cop or revenge film, you can do better than 48 Hrs.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Production: Paramount Pictures; Lawrence Gordon Productions
Director: Walter Hill
Producer: Lawrence Gordon; Joel Silver
Screenwriter: Roger Spottiswoode; Walter Hill; Larry Gross; Steven E. de Souza
Director of Photography: Ric Waite
Editor: Freeman Davies; Mark Warner; Billy Weber
Production Design: John Vallone
Set Decoration: Richard C. Goddard
Music: James Horner
Costume Design: Marilyn Vance
Budget: ca. $12,000,000
Release Date: December 8, 1982 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Laboratory: Movielab, Hollywood, CA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Copyright Holder: Paramount Pictures Corporation
Cast: Nick Nolte; Eddie Murphy; Annette O’Toole; Frank McRae; James Remar; Sonny Landham; Brion James; Kerry Sherman; Jonathan Banks; James Keane
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Rating: R; Descriptors: N/A
Running Time: 1 hours and 36 minutes (96 mins.)