Thursday, June 10, 2010
Attached To Things
Walter Hill’s ANOTHER 48 HRS. was released twenty years ago on June 8, 1990, following up the box office failure of his hugely underrated JOHNNY HANDSOME from the previous fall with a badly needed hit. More than that, however, it was more likely an attempt by Eddie Murphy to regain his footing after the complete disaster of the previous year’s HARLEM NIGHTS. For his part Nick Nolte was just coming off the well-received Sidney Lumet police drama Q&A so around this time things were chugging along fine for him. Since the film is billed as being ‘in association with Eddie Murphy Productions’ it’s easy to imagine the superstar getting a look at the first cut of NIGHTS, the only film he’s ever directed, and immediately calling Hill and Nolte to get them to clear their schedules. The sequel actually did slightly better than the original had done eight years earlier when released in 1982 but a lot of time had passed and it didn’t match up to the heights Murphy’s career had reached in the intervening years. With the billing of the two stars unsurprisingly reversed this time out, the end result got rushed through production for a summer release that just didn’t have the old fire to it and ultimately felt kind of like a letdown, another piece of Hollywood sequel laziness. The Walter Hill feel of professionalism is there all the way through but it was all probably too small-scale during a time when summer movies were really starting to get bigger. It was way too soon for this sort of urban western to feel at all retro. Looking at it now, I honestly have to admit that I don’t think it’s all that bad—true, it’s definitely not one of the better films by the director, it’s missing that special feeling the original had and it features one of the single dumbest plot holes in movie history. But it moves fast and its nonstop momentum definitely feels like a Walter Hill film. How about this—if you’re sitting around watching movies with friends, this would probably work ok as the second or third movie of the night while you’re making your way through lots of pizza and beer. It gets the job done even if it tries its best to make sure that the job isn’t all that straining. You could do a lot worse. You have done a lot worse, to steal a line from Michael Murphy in MANHATTAN.
Several years after the events of the first film San Francisco cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte, looking like a guy who’s just out of rehab) is on the trail of the Bay Area’s biggest drug dealer known as The Iceman but no one else seems to believe he even exists. When a shootout with a possible link results as you would expect in one of these movies, Cates is in deep trouble with I.A. when the dead suspect’s gun can’t be found. The one link he does have is an old photo of Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) that he finds at the scene. As it turns out, Hammond is about to finally be released from prison years after he was originally going to be (it seems there was a payroll robbery that added a few years to his sentence but he says he was framed) and Cates believes that somebody is out to get his old friend. He’s right of course, with Cherry Ganz (Andrew Divoff, seen recently on LOST, here looking like a cross between Ben Affleck and Josh Brolin) the brother of the first film’s Albert Ganz, out to get him and more than happy to take down Cates as well. Cates knows that they’re out to get Reggie but he also knows that Reggie can help finger the Iceman so he uses the promise of the money he’s been holding for him since the end of the first film to help clear his name before another 48 hours, so to speak, runs out.
The Highway Patrol officer who gets quickly killed by the bad guys in the opening scene is played by a tough-looking woman, a nice Walter Hill-type touch which I mention only because this bit of casting feels like the only genuine surprise in the entire movie. With a fair amount of action the whole thing moves quickly through its 95-minute running time refusing to ever break too much of a sweat while presumably hoping that we won’t ask too many questions about the plot (Screenplay by John Fasano & Jeb Stuart and Larry Gross, Story by Fred Braughton who is actually a pseudononymous Eddie Murphy) that I honestly feel like I can only sort of track. What’s missing from ANOTHER 48 HRS, aside from how special the original film was, is the feel to it which was probably unique to the time when that film was made. I’ve always felt like the first half hour played as a seventies movie starring Nick Nolte’s pissed off cop then when Eddie Murphy’s super cocky con gets introduced everything suddenly shoots into the eighties and it becomes about those two elements coming at each other with all the ferocity imaginable along with some racial tension that had a genuine sense of danger to it. Everybody on that film including the two stars, James Remar’s bad guy Ganz and all crew members behind the camera were working at the absolute top of their game.
There was probably no way to recapture that feel, not when everyone was so much richer and didn’t have to try quite as hard, but the movie never really tries to live up to it anyway--instead of the forceful Bay Area location work like the shootout in the BART station or even the evocative shot of the San Rafael Bridge when Jack Cates goes to meet Reggie Hammond at San Quentin for the first time the sequel seems to have been mostly shot quickly in L.A. with very little attempt at ever setting some kind of mood beyond just another cop movie. A fair amount of scenes are placed in anonymous nightclubs and sleazy hotels—probably a bunch of sets—with downtown L.A. standing in for the other city complete with fake trolleys seen (and even heard offscreen) at every conceivable moment and some slightly hilly streets used in an attempt to convince us we’re up in Frisco (in fairness, not all of the first film was shot up there either but at least there was a definite sense of place). Many dialogue scenes are shot like a TV show with no real grit or rhythm to anything like Hill was trying to get all this done as fast as possible (considering the film started shooting around January for a June release this may have been exactly the case). Any style that does turn up just feels out of place like the occasional use of extreme wide-angle lenses, a touch that just feels like a misguided attempt to do something a little different (I also remember some of this in JOHNNY HANDSOME, which was shot by Matthew F. Leonetti as well) and, most annoyingly, some stupidly frenetic camerawork spotlighting the band playing in the one nightclub scene.
As fast moving as it all is, a few elements definitely feel like they were lost in the editing particularly a subplot involving a character played by Tisha Campbell, placed in jeopardy then forgotten about, and Frank McRae, the first film’s captain who is seen once briefly from a distance but presumably had his entire role cut out. Some bits that are left in just seem lame, as if they couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything better--at one point Hammond avoids getting shot because he’s kneeling down to get a look at a girl through a peephole. At least a lot of the action and shootouts are well-executed as would be expected from somebody like Hill, even if it never feels like he’s really trying that hard to make this film very special. That bus flip/truck crash assault when the bad guys are trying to eliminate Murphy is pretty damn cool too. Probably the most energetic moment of the entire film is the decidedly audacious beat of the bad guys crashing their bikes through a porno theater movie screen showing a Kitten Navidad film which is a touch of humor that doesn’t feel much like something from Walter Hill but at least it provides some oomph to a scene which up until then is pretty standard. Actually, considering how the bikers play such a big part (though it never feels like they do much more than snarl and try to act tough) you’d think that there would be some kind of big chase to really utilize this and there really isn’t. With all the action, shootouts, massive breaking of glass and general Nick Nolteness I suppose there’s a minor case to be made for the film as an auteurist expression of B-level craft—I kind of remember an article in Film Comment long ago that did just this—but very little about it could be described as noteworthy in any way so there’s really only so far that this argument can be taken.
It’s kind of fun to see these two guys sparring with each other once again but there’s very little of the ferocious chemistry that was there in the first film. They’re obviously not as hungry as they were then so maybe there just couldn’t be but it still feels like there’s a spark missing. Interestingly, there seems to be a role reversal going on—this time it’s Murphy who’s the pissed off one of the pair with Nolte getting on his nerves—but that idea comes off as a little half-baked and while it is actually kind of fun to see a relaxed Nick Nolte in a movie, considering Jack Cates’s career and freedom are at stake you would think he’d show a little more concern. Even when he does get upset he just seems kind of cranky and manic more than anything, never very dangerous. In addition to a plot that I’m a little fuzzy on regarding the details (there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of McGuffin equivalent to the money and also Cates’ missing gun in the first film) and no action scene that could be considered a standout there’s also not any kind of really brutal fight where the two leads let loose all their anger at each other like in the first film. There are a few random punches thrown at various points (when Nolte hits Murphy out of nowhere it does get me to laugh) but no real sense that they’re ever actually hurting each other and by a certain point it all feels like it’s sort of dropped as if they don’t have the energy to even try to hate each other anymore.
Murphy also loudly gets everyone’s attention in a bar at one point which feels like it’s supposed to be this film’s equivalent of his star making country & western bar scene in the original but this time it just becomes about him shouting at a lot of people. It’s still an ok scene and Murphy’s pretty good here, there’s just nothing all that special about it. I guess that sums up the movie. And sometimes you take another look at one of these movies with ok scenes after years away from it and you feel a little more forgiving. A poster for ANOTHER 48 HRS. is probably what you see when you look up the word ‘workmanlike’ in the dictionary, but Hill is enough of a pro so the craft comes through. Hell, even the shootout climax only lasts about five minutes, like the movie itself just wants to wrap things up quickly which is actually pretty refreshing. As straightforward as it all is there are a few eccentric beats that slip in throughout which manage to accentuate the director’s old-school nature—my favorite is probably when Nolte decides to back up his car through the city streets to return to the station and when he’s told he should just drive the long way around the block instead, he spits out, “Nah, it’s too easy.” The thing is, ANOTHER 48 HRS. really is the filmic equivalent of taking that easy way around the block, probably one of the last real Hollywood examples of a part two that felt totally slapped together before the execs realized that they could go on forever with these things if they wanted to. I like it better than I did twenty years ago but maybe that’s not saying much.
The one element that bugs me about this movie more than anything is the revelation of the Iceman’s identity which results in just about the dumbest plot hole in movie history, maybe even bigger than the one in LETHAL WEAPON 2 (a much better sequel, it should be said). When the character in question is revealed as the villain behind it all it’s not only ludicrous if you think about it for three seconds (Roger Ebert: “Why would he need to keep his day job?”) but if Jack Cates was never able to figure this out after all these years, considering how all this goes back to even before the first film, it really does make the character seem like, as Reggie Hammond puts it earlier, the dumbest motherfucker in law enforcement. I guess it’s nothing worth getting all that upset about since there’s no point in taking this movie very seriously but it is a pretty disrespectful way to treat such a cool Nick Nolte character like Jack Cates.
Murphy seems sporadically engaged at best here, sometimes active in scenes, sometimes just kind of there—when he has to drag out the old “Roxanne” bit early on his heart doesn’t really seem in it. When he takes a few minutes to try to track down old friends on the phone to hit them up for a loan it feels like they got him on a good day. Coming less than two months after the release of Q&A, this was Nolte’s second straight role as a cop dealing with Internal Affairs and he seems to be playing Cates as a guy still trying to figure himself out after quitting drinking and finally breaking up between movies with the Annette O’Toole character from the original. His performance may be kind of inconsistent and rudderless with a thin script that doesn’t really help but at least he seems to be working to come up with something so points to him for that. Besides, how bad can a movie where Nick Nolte willingly starts a bar fight really be, anyway? He also shouts “Call for help now!” at someone just like in the first film and I like when somebody who doesn’t believe he’s flashing a real police badge says, “My kid’s got one of those,” so he pulls out his giant gun and, cigarette dangling from his mouth, spits out, “Your kid got one of these?” The sadly missed Brion James reprises his role as Ben Kehoe from the first film with much more screen time in this one. Ed O’Ross, also in Hill’s RED HEAT among many other credits, is another detective who spars with Cates and Kevin Tighe (also recently on, whaddya know, LOST) is the prick I.A. guy. Brent Jennings (Harrison Ford’s partner in WITNESS) is the connection to Cherry Ganz who Nolte seems to spend half the movie trying to identify and Bernie Casey brings a lot of intensity to his role as Hammond’s prison protector that makes it seem like the actor thought his hard work was really going to matter in the end. Maybe most of the point of it was lost in the editing. To mention another tough girl who seems right at home in a Walter Hill film, Cathy Haase has some interesting moments in a few scenes as a waitress who deals with both the bad guys and Nick Nolte. The James Horner score makes use of that sax, steel drums and pan pipes thing the composer used in not only the first film but also COMMANDO, GORKY PARK, RED HEAT and probably something else I’m forgetting. James Horner, ladies and gentleman—he finds something that works, he sticks with it.
It feels like a total rush job, but I think it actually exchanged release dates with DAYS OF THUNDER, the other big June release from Paramount, getting moved up a few weeks because that film wasn’t ready yet. Say what you want, but Walter Hill knew how to have his shit together. Hopefully at some point soon we’ll get to find out that he still does. The definitely modest goals of ANOTHER 48 HRS. means that it certainly doesn’t warrant anyone making a strong case for it but I guess you could call the result a professional piece of work by an action director who knew how to bring the thing in on time. I pretty much hated this movie in the summer of 1990 but looking at it now after so many more summers with so many worse summer movies I guess I can now look at it as an enjoyably stripped down piece of action with no real pretensions, a non-taxing 95 minutes. Which sometimes isn’t all that bad a thing. The original is still one of the action comedy landmarks of the eighties. This one in comparison is just halfway decent and those plot issues still bug me. But I guess I’ve said far worse things about movies before and there are definitely far worse movies to revisit than this one.