Truly great “buddy movies” are very hard to find these days, so I find myself often returning to the classics of the genre, with the totally terrific 1982 action-comedy 48 Hrs. continually leading the way. With dynamite chemistry between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy (in his big-screen debut), macho-man director Walter Hill was armed with a superb screenplay that he co-authored along with Roger Spottiswoode, Larry Gross, Steven E. de Souza, and Jeb Stuart, and he brought the same sense of hard-charging action to all of the set-pieces that he had become known for during the 70’s with his prolific output. Marking the producing debut for future genre overlord Joel Silver, the narrative was fast and loose, with big laughs running parallel to big stunts and shootouts, while the interplay between Nolte (as a crusty cop) and Murphy (as a convict) really helped to elevate the film beyond what it might have been with different actors in the lead roles. The great supporting cast includes an oily James Remar, Annette O’Toole, David Patrick Kelly, Sonny Landham, Brion James, and Jonathan Banks(!). James Horner’s score was big and magnificent, Ric Waite’s cinematography appropriately rugged and gritty, and the tight editing by Bill Weber, Mark Warner, and Freeman Davies kept the film moving at a fast clip.
Helping to revitalize the “buddy cop” genre after films like Busting, The Super Cops, and Freebie and the Bean exploded on the scene in the 70’s, the excellent work done by all of the creative parties on 48 Hrs. would go on to inspire future efforts like Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, Beverly Hills Cop, and Rush Hour, with many imitators coming and going along the fringes. The film spent a while in development, with various writers and directors all taking shots at the material before Hill settled down to roll cameras; Clint Eastwood was attached to star for a while as well. This is a timeless film. Sure, it was made with an 80’s aesthetic, but because the script is genuinely witty and there are actual stakes to the plot, you become immediately invested, while truly liking the leads and wanting to see them succeed. Nolte and Murphy knew exactly how to play off of one another, resulting in an unlikely pairing that has now become something of cinematic legend. And for Hill, it’s yet another reminder of how sturdy a filmmaker he was in his heyday; his entire body of work is worthy of reconsideration. A critical success and box office hit, this is one of Hill’s most overtly entertaining films, and a true call-back to a different type of action blockbuster.