DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: 48 Hours

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

48 Hours

48 Hours (1982) dir, Walter Hill
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte, James Remar, Sonny Landham, Frank McRae


By Alan Bacchus

Co-written by prolific action scribes/directors Steven E. De Souza, Roger Spottiswoode, and Walter Hill, this film acts like a template for 80’s action cinema. Buddy conflict 101 which begat other franchises such as Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys and lesser knock offs.

Here we have gruff cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) paired up with a wily and charasmatic con Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) hunting down a cop killer and recent prison escapee who’s made off with Reggie's car and a briefcase full of cash.

It’s the buddy cop formula par excellence, one black, one white with much racial conflict dividing the two; we also have Frank McRae as the vein-pulsating chief at odds with Jack’s hot dog style of policing spouting now cliched dialogue like “If you screw up, I promise you you’re going down” (that's direct quote) a role he'd later lampoon in John McTiernan's Last Action Hero. We also find a compendium of 80’s thematic fixtures, obscenely foul mouthed characters, high body count, mondo bullet squib work, misogynistic attitudes to women and some 80’s titties added for good measure. We can find strange admiration for these genre elements which started a long and successful trend in Hollywood, but what we can’t find humour in is the shameful racial conflict which fuels much of the humour in this film.

The N-word is flung around much too casually it comes off as embarrassing as Eddie Murphy's AIDS rant in his Delirious stand up routine. In particular, the redneck bar sequence wherein Jack and Reggie search out accomplices to their suspect. in this scene Reggie is looked upon as if he entered a KKK rally, and the n-word insults he endures for sake of comedy is atrocious. Of course Reggie has the last laugh as he single-handily disarms the entire bar. But it’s part of the general exploitation of racial stereotypes which permeates every part of this film.

What we can admire is the film's place in the filmography of Walter Hill’s, his most successful film. Hill was simply one of the best directors of action in the late 70’s through the early 90’s. Once a protege of Sam Peckinpah’s Hill brought the same tough Western sensibilities of Peckinpah’s to modern period films such as Johnny Handsome, The Driver, and Extreme Prejudice.

Look for some of Hill’s stylistic hallmarks, including strong nighttime photography (when much of this film takes place). The look fits in well with the prevailing visual style of the times: soft and well lit blueish backgrounds and rainwashed streets reflecting the coloured neon brings to mind Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Michael Mann’s Thief and later Walter Hill’s own Streets of Fire.

Not only was this an early Joel Silver production, the film also featured an early score by James Horner (Aliens, Braveheart, Titanic). But instead of his now familiar orchestral melodies, Horner delivers a tough jazzy score using synthesizers and steel drums. Though it dates the film it represents the musical trends of the day in the best light possible.

Looking past the obscenities, 48 Hours serves chiefly as an Eddie Murphy vehicle, his first film outside of Saturday Night Live, and indeed it showcases his rapid-fire comedic skills and on screen charisma.

48 Hours is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment


Aaron said...

Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy is a great combination, I am really looking forward to seeing this one!!

Patrick said...

Saw this for the first time in years recently and was pretty blown away by the racial slurs - most of them spouted out by one of the heroes! And I remember when it came out hardly anyone batted an eye.

Have a bit of a soft spot for that score, as iconic as the Beverly Hills Cop 'Axel F' theme.