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48 Hours

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: 48 Hours

Starring: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy
Director: Walter Hill
Rated: R
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: May 1982
Genres: Action, Comedy

*Also starring: Annette O'Toole, Frank McRae, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, Sonny Landham, Brion James, James Keane, Jonathan Banks

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Let me introduce you to an average cop movie of 1980s. The main hero is a rogue macho cop, who never goes by the book but whose success in taking out bad guys saves him from the wrath of his superiors, mostly embodied in black captain. At the beginning, our hero sees his partner/colleague/friend killed by the main bad guy, so his job becomes personal. His one-man-show investigation is strenghtened by the presence of another cop/friend/helper who must win his trust, often in a series of embarrassing "buddy buddy" incidents. Their mutual quest almost always gets into dead end, before they get their act together and manage to take out bad guys in a final showdown. Overuse of such formula in previous decade is probably the reason why 48 HRS., action thriller by Walter Hill, doesn't look as original and refreshing as it did during its premiere in 1982.

The plot follows the formula noted above. Violent and dangerous criminal Ganz (James Remar) escapes from the prison farm with the help of his Indian friend Billy Bear (Sonny Landham). Their next stop is San Francisco, where they murder one of their old associates, thus bringing attention of the police. Detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) takes part in their arrest, but the action ends disastrously, with two of the cops dead and Cates' own gun in the hands of brutal murderer. Feeling personally humiliated, and with the reluctant approval of his bosses, Cates begins the manhunt on the city streets, but he desperately needs some inside information about Ganz. Such help comes in the form of Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy), black and smooth-talking convict who has some personal interest in seeing his old buddy Ganz behind bars. But, in order to assist Cates, Hammond demands to be on the streets. Cates reluctantly agrees to bring Hammond out of prison for 48 hours; during that time two men must find the criminals, before they kill each other over black/white and cop/convict issues.

Although many times re-used by less talented filmmakers (including Hill himself in disappointing RED HEAT six years later and with even more disastrous results in the 1990 sequel ANOTHER 48 HRS.), the plot works very well. That is hardly surprising, since the screenplay was written by authors like Steven E. De Souza, Roger Spottiswoode or Jeb Stuart - many of them would later earn a lot of respect by providing scripts for popular action movies of the 1980s. Walter Hill, one of the screenplay co-authors, was still at the prime of his directorial career and he utilised the script to the fullest extent. His editing techniques and perfect sense for the movie pace (ideal combination of action scenes and "buddy buddy" dynamic) overcome the genre clich‚s. Even the overused San Francisco scenery works very well in this film, together with the good music soundtrack (although the main theme by James Horner would later be recycled by the composer in some 1980s movies).

However, the most appealing thing about 48 HRS. is one of its two leads. Eddie Murphy, although second-billed, simply outshone any other cast members - even such capable actors with previous Hill experience, like James Remar, David Patrick Kelly and Brion James. In this movie Murphy clearly established his on-screen personality of clever, fast-talking and self-confident urban black that would later help him to dominate the box-office and even keep afloat some movies that would otherwise sink. Watching Murphy deliver such personality - rarely successful combination of an action hero and comic relief - is a real joy; especially in the most memorable scene when he, pretending to be a cop, shakes down an entire racist redneck bar. The scene looks so natural for Murphy, that the viewer could easily forget that it was staged. His partner and nominal lead, Nick Nolte, is so inferior and passive in that scene, and that impression would remain with him for the rest of the film. So, thanks to the domineering presence of his emerging lead, 48 HRS. was bound to be remembered more as an Eddie Murphy vehicle than good action movie by its merit. Perhaps without Murphy, this movie would be easy forgotten and all of his flaws and clich‚s (like completely unnecessary subplot involving Cates' girlfriend) more easily revealed. But, whether it owes its quality to Murphy or something else, 48 HRS. deserves to be praised anyway.

(Special note for "trekkies": Denise Crosby, later known as Lt. Tasha Yar in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION could be seen in 48 HRS. in the role of bat- wielding roommate).

Copyright © 1998 Dragan Antulov

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