|Striking Poses, Striking Difference|
Cates is slightly more open and relaxed than Callahan, however. In this way he ceases to be a 70s character and becomes more of an 80s one. Sure, he's tough and somewhat formal as evidenced by the blazer, but he has a swagger, a looseness. There is, from the outset, banter between Cates and Hammond that, as the film progresses, becomes friendly as opposed to hostile. Of course, this follows the true buddy cop (Hammond becomes an honorary cop in this film) movie formula. Certainly, 48 Hours can be credited with paving the way for a later and even more popular interracial buddy cop film, Lethal Weapon.
If there is racial tension in this film it isn't expressed. In five years, open use of racial slurs in films had become frowned upon. There are, however, clear racial roles in this film. Though they share nearly equal screen time, somehow Gibson's Riggs seems like the main character, while Murtaugh is something of a satellite, an accessory. Though Murtaugh has been an officer longer, Riggs is characterized as braver and smarter. In one scene in a firing range, Riggs shows off his shooting skills by achieving a near impossible shot from a great distance, thereby making Murtaugh's impressive shooting seem lackluster by comparison. The point is made early on in the film as to whom is the most masculine. Murtaugh seems to accept this role without question, seemingly following Riggs' lead as the film progresses, though he is the older, more experienced cop. Nevertheless, these roles seem to suit both characters and they successfully fight crime while becoming partners and friends.
Both 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon focus on race, the latter more subtly than the former. Each film provides a showcase on the ways in which race and masculinity intersect. In 48 Hours, Murphy's Hammond is a jive talking criminal who revels in his ability to be infinitely cooler than Cates. Yet he is never portrayed as suitable competition in the masculinity department. He gets his moment to play cop in a redneck bar, but uses a slur to describe himself during the only moment where he truly gets to display an authentic masculinity. Alternatively, Glover's Murtaugh is an upstanding character, a family man and respected police officer who still cannot compete with Riggs' toughness, intensity, bravery and shooting skills. Hammond and Murtaugh both are much more formally dressed then their white counterparts, remaining in suits throughout the duration of both films. Yet in Hammond's case the suit is too flashy to garner respect, while Murtaugh's suit seems to suggest advancing age and irrelevance. No matter what they do or wear, they still don't quite measure up. Curiously and rather contradictorily, these films likely played a role in lessening racial tensions at the same time that they play to the racial status quo.