“Buddy comedy” might not be the right term for the 1982 film 48 Hrs., the third entry in our five-film look at the buddy movie. After all, protagonists Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) and Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) spend much of the film hating each other. And with good reason: Jack’s a cop eager to solve a case and Reggie’s a con who should be able to help him solve it, but isn’t eager to provide any more help than he has to. There’s also this: Jack keeps pelting Reggie with racist insults. Their relationship does not—for much of the film, anyway—appear to be a beautiful friendship in the making. That antipathy is part of what makes this Walter Hill film so compelling. Nolte and Murphy play characters seemingly never meant to share space with each other, much less cooperate on solving a crime, and that gives it a charge other buddy-cop movies have struggled to replicate. Though funny, it always seems this close to tipping over into darkness.
48 Hrs. has all the expected qualities of a tough, Hill-directed, Nolte-starring action film, but it’s Murphy that sets it apart. Murphy was 21 when he made the film, his first after pretty much singlehandedly saving Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s. He doesn’t even show up until the first act is nearly over, but once he does, he takes over the movie, even when he’s apparently not doing that much. Just watch Reggie’s face when Jack insults him. There’s that winning Murphy smile, but the look in his eyes suggests he’s filing all this away for later and that there will be hell to pay when the time comes. Part of the pleasure of 48 Hrs. is watching him wait for the right time to deliver it, whether he’s in a buddy comedy or not.
Coming Up on Movie Of The Week’s “Buddy Comedy Month”:
March 24: Midnight Run
March 31: Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion