Oddball cop and tough guy, Jack Cates is the only survivor of a cop shooting and in hunting down the murderer collects Reggie Hammond from jail for 48 hours. Hammond is oddly motivated to help. The killer is searching for his stash of cash. Cates and Hammond who have the Black-white, cop-crook thing to work out make surprisingly good partners as they navigate through the city looking for their suspect.
48 HOURS is the birth of the buddy cop movie. Okay, yes, buddy cop storylines happened before this film on both television and in the movies. Two that easily come to mind was the 1970s television show, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISO, and the late 1960s film, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (which eventually became a TV show too). But what made 48HRS different was that is was an action film and a comedy film at the same time. Two favorite genres of the all important 18 to 25 male demographic that can turn a mediocre film into a box office smash. Like it did with this film.
Hollywood took notice and started greenlighting buddy cop films again and again in the 1980s and beyond. The most successful was the Lethal Weapon series of films.
So while Eddie Murphy did his comedic thing, as Nick Nolte growled in displeasure (like no other actor before or since), gun fights, car chases and explosions occured. This concept has been used over 100 times sinces 48 HOURS debuted in 1982 and you can give this film its true acknowledgement in being the film that's been copied the most by other films in the history of cinema.
How many times have you seen this situation?:
- Cop going ROGUE and getting benefits in the long run for doing so.
- Black guy and white guy teaming up from different backgrounds to take down bad guys.
- Liberal minded man and conservative minded man teaming up to take down bad guys.
- Funny guy and not too funny guy teaming up to..........
- Playing by society's law guy and guy with criminal past teaming up to..........
- Cop who can't get along with anyone is forced by the hand to team up with a partner. They don't like each other at first but of course learn to like, or perhaps love, each other in the end and become good friends.
- Comedic one liners occuring in very stressful and conflict ridden situations that no sane person would ever possibly be able to say.
- Those comedic one liners become catch phrases that hit the pop-culture world and it forces everyone to watch the film because they need context to the one-liners they keep hearing at the office water coolers (or in the case of the 21st century world, facebook and twitter)
- Cop loses someone in 1st act and learns big lesson from it that sets up situation in 3rd act.
- Cop too type-A driven to ever be able to hold down any significant relationship with another human being.
- Superior officer getting into screaming match with leading men after they go rogue. But of course they keep going rogue because audience love people who play by their own rules and go rogue. Perhaps because most of us want to be like that in our own life but of course don't have the guts to do it (or they have a gigantic house mortgage and can't take the risk)
The surprising thing about this film was that it really stands the test of time today. Even with all the above mentioned cliches! It's a tight film filled with two leading men who were at their prime of their careers. Nick Nolte is so good playing a guy who is on a mission. He's gruffy and insensitive, and you would never want to be friends with this guy, but there's something to him that you can relate with. The world is against guys like this and no matter if he does the right thing or the wrong thing, he seems to get shit on either way. And he knows it too. He's a realist who is also determined to do the right thing. A very rare human trait but very common characters in the movies. Problem is that very few can play these types. And Nolte is the best at playing them.
And Eddie Murphy was brilliant at this very young stage of his career. You tend to forget that he was only 20 years old when he did 48 HOURS and it was only his 2nd film. But he seems like a veteran movie star who's been on film sets for years in this film. He undertands the camera and how to evoke comedic and dramatic emotion to the audience. The man was a natural, and like say Orson Welles - another rare natural in the business, Murphy was at his best at a very early age, before fame, woman, money and relationships with people who were his hanger-ons and not his real friends, ruined his gifts. You kind of wished Eddie Murphy could be 20 years old forever because I don't think there has been a more talented individual in the last 100 years. You kind of forget how talented he was.
And the film's running time at just 95 minutes is a treat. Today's 21st century action movies go long past the 2 hour mark and always seem to drag along. Perhaps the studio brass thinks they need to make movies this long because they are spending so much money on them. But fun movies like this should never be epic in nature because it's not a film about anything profound. It's like a detective or romance paperback novel. It's simple, too the point and a fun ride. And they don't make those novels the length of War and Peace.