Director Walter Hill was on a dubbing stage last July, methodically putting the final touches on Johnny Handsome, when Eddie Murphy rang him up with a proposition that would turn the next 11 months into a frenzy of story sessions and rewrites, car crashes and barroom brawls, round-the-clock editing and a last-minute rush to the film labs. From the moment Hill picked up the phone he found himself in a multi-million-dollar game of beat-the-clock that didn’t end until two weeks ago, when Another 48 HRS. careened into movie theaters nationwide on June 8.
Murphy was calling Hill to say the time was right for a sequel to 48 HRS., the 1982 action comedy that not only triggered a whole wave of interracial-buddy-cop movies, but also marked the transformation of the brash comedian from an overnight sensation on Saturday Night Live into the baddest box-office draw of the ’80s.
Hill had his doubts. Since the original 48 HRS. had shot up the screen, collaring more than $78 million in domestic ticket sales, Paramount Pictures had been begging the director for an encore. But, as Hill insisted last month during a break in the crush of post-production chores, ”I’d always said I didn’t think a sequel was a very good idea. 48 HRS. was a well-liked movie in its time, but I kind of thought the tale was told.”
Hill agreed to hear out Murphy, who immediately began suggesting ways to reignite the love-hate relationship between his sharp con, Reggie Hammond, and Nick Nolte’s shaggy cop, Jack Cates. Within days, the boys were back in business.
”I felt there was another level that the story could go to,” Nolte says of his own decision to sign on. ”I wanted to work with Walter and Eddie wanted to work with Walter. It’s precarious doing a sequel, but we all just decided to give it a shot.”
”It happened very quickly,” says Hill, the laconic understatement. ”I became quite convinced of Eddie’s passion for doing it and doing it in a way that respected the spirit of the first movie. He’d given it a lot of thought and he didn’t want to make Beverly Hills Cop with Reggie Hammond.”
Though he never stated it, Murphy’s enthusiasm also may have been fuled by his eagerness to work off the remaining three commitments on his $8 million to $10 million-per-picture Paramount contract. What better way to do so, given the critical bashing awarded his disappointing Harlem Nights, than to return to the collaboration that had made him a star in the first place?
Nolte theorizes: ”He didn’t speak about it, but I definitely had the feeling that he wanted to reconnect with his roots, that he wanted to work with an outside director, out of the Paramount fold, and that he wanted to work on a project where he didn’t have to carry the whole film.”
Paramount needed no convincing. The studio wanted the movie and wanted it fast. No matter that a screenplay had yet to be written, the start of principal photography was set for January 3, 1990, so that it would be possible to crash the movie into the marketplace for the lucrative summer season. Basic decisions had to be made quickly. Putting together a satisfying sequel, as the filmmakers knew, requires a calculated balance between invention and familiarity. Stray too far from the style and characters of the original and the results are box-office duds like Grease 2 and Exorcist II: The Heretic — sequels in name only. But stick too closely to a winning formula and the results, like Beverly Hills Cop II and Ghostbusters II, no matter how commercially successful, give off the tale odor of déjà vu.
The original 48 HRS., as Hill saw it, had two elements that either could not, or should not be reporduced. The first, of course, was Murphy’s explosive film debut. ”There’s that kind of excitment about discovering a new star that the second film cannot have,” Hill admits. ”Now [Murphy’s] an institution, and the movie had to accommodate in some way that difference between his being the new kid on the block and one of the four or five biggest movie stars in the world.”
Nor did Hill want to echo the racial antagonism that bound Cates and Hammond together in their first outing, figuring a return to that theme would violate the mutual respect the characters had achieved by the end of the first movie.
As Larry Gross, the third screenwriter on the project after Jeb Stuart and John Fasano, sees it, ”What gives the duo a kick” in their second encounter ”is they both have different codes of crime and justice. Nick, in his pragmatic way, believes in law and order; Eddie’s an anarchist. Where I talk myself into believing that this is a better film is that both characters are five years older and under more stress. ”Nick has a lot more to play. In the first movie, he had a conventional good-guy persona. In this one, he’s definitely got a screw loose. And Eddie’s a lot angrier. After being kept in jail for five years, he’s pissed off. Walter and I would ruminate about it endlessly, and, to me, what Eddie’s best at is a combination of funny-angry.”
Although their characters have changed, the situations Reggie and Cates find themselves in are pretty much the same. Another 48 HRS. takes its cues from its predecessor, set piece for set piece: See Reggie and Cates pummel each other in the street. See Reggie fake their way out of a redneck bar. See Cates stumble into a whore-house shoot-out. See Cates face down the villain, who has a gun to Reggie’s head.
Hill admits that the similarities are entirely intentional. ”I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but you get very playful. You think, ah, the audience is going to say, ‘Oh, God, he’s going to do it again. I’ve seen this.’ You’ve set it up physically exactly the same way, but then you do something a little different. One of the hardest things about movies like this — not just sequels, but cop movies — is you always know who’s going to win. Clint Eastwood isn’t going to die. Genre expectation is one of the most powerful forces in movies and you must not violate that contract. If I shot down Nick and Eddie at the end, they’d have a posse out after me. What becomes fun for the filmmaker and fun for the audience is how you move the set pieces around so that it seems as though you’re doing something fresh.”
Gross still was pounding away on the screenplay when the cameras began rolling because Hill preferred the final rewrite be finished only after locations had been chosen and supporting players cast. The director had adopted the same filming-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach when they were making the original 48 HRS., which cost $13 million. If he felt any added pressure turning out its $45 million sequel in time to make Paramount’s urgent delivery date, he didn’t sweat it. He was determined to make a virtue out of necessity. ”What seems to be a disadvantage can sometimes be turned into an advantage,” he insists. ”I wanted the movie to have a style that was very rough around the edges. There’s a kind of push to the movie that’s almost like tearing things.”
One concession he made to the tight schedule, however, was to use two crews working on adjacent sound-stages, setting up a shot on one while he directed a shot on the other. He also employed a team of three editors headed by Freeman Davies, who has collaborated with Hill on 10 movies. Confident in Davies’ ability to cut the film to his directions, he didn’t even bother with the time-consuming task of screening dailies, convinced that raw footage has to be assembled into a rough cut before performances can be judged.
Despite the time pressures, Hill dismisses any suggestions that the pace was frenetic, adding, ”Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, this movie was made in a very solid, procedural way,” facilitated by the fact that he, Murphy, and Nolte fell right back into an easygoing rapport.
”Eddie’s manner was not remarkably different at all,” Hill says. ”He was always the most confident young man that I’d ever met. When Eddie showed up in San Francisco [for the first movie], he was very sure that he was a star even if nobody else knew it yet. He was a skinny kid then and he’s a full-grown man now. But I don’t think I directed him any different than I did the first time. Both [Murphy and Nolte] still do what I tell them to do, and they still make smart-aleck remarks about it.”
Hill did adjust for his stars’ contrasting tempos. ”With Nick and Eddie, I didn’t want to over-rehearse and I didn’t want to do too many takes,” he explains. ”I’d try to shoot Nick’s side before I shot Eddie’s. Because Nick gets there in the morning and he’s ready to go, like a horse ready to come out of the stall. Eddie stays up all night. He doesn’t have as much sparkle in the mornings.”
Everything was tooling along according to plan when the real crunch came. Paramount executives arrived on the set in early April to ask Hill if he could speed up the schedule. Days of Thunder, the studio’s other big entry in the summer sweepstakes, was not going to be ready for its June 8 slot. Could Hill, who’d been told to have Another 48 HRS. ready for a June 29 release, be ready with his movie three weeks early?
The director sat down with his editors over the weekend to see how the picture was coming together. ”We were already on a war footing, but it seemed to be one of those movies that just was cutting very nicely,” so he decided to go for it. ”If I thought it would’ve hurt the movie, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Essentially the decision meant filming longer each day and on Saturdays to shave the schedule. Hill also agreed to eliminate two weeks from his post-production schedule by working round-the-clock on the dubbing stage — if the studio would speed up by a week the time needed to manufacture the 2,301 prints necessary for a national release.
As the due date approached for a completed print, Hill sent the first half to the duplicator a few days early to earn himself some extra time fine-tuning the remaining reels. The film was completed on May 31, allowing just a week for all the prints to be duplicated and shipped. Hill laughs: ”It was a doable thing — if nobody couged, sneezed, or fell over a rig.”
Nobody did, and the movie opened in theaters on schedule, pulling in $19.5 million during its first three days. Whatever its box-office ranking by summer’s end, Another 48 HRS. is this year’s winner for fastest completion of a major motion picture. While competitors such as Total Recall and Dick Tracy took years to work their way to the screen, Hill and Co. stormed the nation’s theaters in a matter of months.
But having made Another 48 HRS., Hill may find that he has set a bad precedent. Already Twentieth Century Fox is beggin him, as the producer of the sci-fi sequel Aliens III, to have that movie ready for release next summer, even though it’s still in the negotiating stage. ”The time crunch is terrible,” Hill laments. ”There are so many movies around town that are under this incredible pressure rather than have their own natural breathing space. The time frazzle is getting to be a very big problem.”