Guns! Violence! Cringeworthy racial slurs!
BQB here with a review of “48 Hours.”
When I was growing up, this movie was a cable TV staple. Seemed like every so often it was on the TV in the background. After watching it as an adult, I have different thoughts about it than I did as a kid.
Come to think about it, I’m not sure why Aunt Gertie even let me watch this movie. Every two seconds someone is either getting shot or there’s a pair of titties jiggling around. Guns and titties. Guns and titties. The first? Not so much fun. The second? Lots of fun.
But I digress. Nick Nolte plays the gruff and grizzled drunk San Francisco detective Jack Cates. Hooked on booze and permanently pissed off, he’s a walking stereotype of a broken down cop.
Two criminals on the run, Ganz and Billy Bear (James Remar and Sonny Landham) have murdered Detective Algren (Jonathan Banks.) If some of these names sound familiar, it’s because Remar would later go on to play the ghost of Dexter’s father Harry on Showtime’s “Dexter” while Banks would go on to play the great role of his career as cop turned fixer Mike Ehrmantrout on “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”
With nothing to go on, Nolte springs fast talking convict Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) from prison, arranging to take the crook onto the streets for 48 hours. The premise is a little thin though as we learn, Hammond once ran with these bad hombres only to be cheated out of money and turned into the police by them, so he has motivation to want to help Nolte take these bad dudes down.
Cates appears miserable throughout the film. Reggie appears generally happy and easygoing. Cates is series. Reggie jokes. Together, they are a regular odd couple, hating each other in the beginning, becoming fast friends by the end.
The film has cringeworthy parts when they are witnessed through modern eyes. Throughout the film, Cates calls Reggie terrible, racially divisive names like “watermelon” and “spearchucker” and “boy.”
At first, I thought these words seemed rough even for a 1980s picture. I mean, the 1980s were no picnic for race relations but I do recall the general idea of racial harmony and people should get along despite racial differences was in existence.
But then again, with each racial slur, Reggie gives Jack his comeuppance. At one point, Jack comes right out and calls Reggie an n-word and in my mind I’m thinking, “Ungh this is too much” and then bam, Reggie responds by punching Jack in the face. Later, Reggie even has the opportunity to break up a bar full of racist rednecks.
Thus, the racial language is hard to hear but there was sort of a method to the madness. Perhaps the message wasn’t to say this language is good but to show that people who use these words will suffer for it – i.e., call a black guy an n-word, don’t be surprised if you get a deserved punch in the face.
By the end of the film, Cates and Hammond have become fast friends. Over a drink, Cates tells Hammond he’s sorry for calling him all of these nasty names and adds that he didn’t mean them, that he just said them because he’s a cop and it was his job to “keep Reggie down” i.e. make sure he knew that he was the boss and Reggie was the convict under his supervision.
Reggie accepts the apology but points out, “that wasn’t all part of your job.” In other words, Reggie is saying he’s willing to make amends but is pointing out that Cates has some racial biases inside of him that he needs to work on and rid himself of to become a better person. Cates nods in agreement as if to say he realizes – that “it was the job” was an excuse for him not coming to terms that he’s a racist prick.
So honestly, I was torn by it. To modern ears, these racial slurs are tough to hear. And from a modern standpoint, these words aren’t used as willy nilly as they used to be (though still more than they should be).
On the other hand, they’re used to show that Cates is a racist prick and that a friendship with a black man causes him to rethink his racist ways.
Sometimes you have to give a movie a chance. At first, I thought these slurs were just being tossed out frivolously but by the end I realized the movie had a point about holding people to account for their racism.