I think I first heard this existed in some kind of Eddie Murphy retrospective. I just remember an interview clip of Murphy talking about being awed at getting the chance to work with Nick Nolte. This looks like a slight revision of the “buddy cop” formula, where in this case, one of the chalk and cheese pairing isn’t a cop but a convict, presumably with the connections the one who is a cop needs.
Buddy cop wasn’t played out in the early 80s, but I think it was still well established at the time. What comes to mind right now is that the two-year later Beverly Hills Cop seems like a streamlined version of this premise without the buddy cop dynamic, merging the streetwise fast-talker character with the unshakeable detective character. It’s highly likely from the similarity and proximity that Murphy got Beverly Hills because of this movie.
I’m not sure I’ve seen Nolte in anything other than Lorenzo’s Oil, which I saw in a science class in high school. I don’t remember much of it, but I do know it’s clearly a very different film from this. After watching the movie:
Albert Ganz breaks out of prison, killing a guard with his accomplice Billy Bear. They go to their old gang partner Luther and demand he get them the money he hid for the gang three years ago, but it won’t be accessible until Monday, so Ganz takes Luther’s girlfriend hostage as collateral for the duration, and takes a hideout in a hotel. Detective Jack Cates comes to the hotel checking out suspicious persons along with two other detectives, who get killed in an encounter with Ganz, one of them with Jack’s own gun. Eager to catch Ganz, Jack’s only lead is another gang member, Reggie Hammond, six months shy of completing a three year sentence. Reggie agrees to help, but only if Jack lets him out of jail to investigate together, and reluctantly, Jack gets Reggie released into his custody for 48 hours.
This was listed as a a comedy, but it isn’t. I made that assertion about Demolition Man, but I later saw the satire as more pervasive than I originally thought. This is just a dark story, with some levity provided by Murphy, who doesn’t get introduced until over 25 minutes into the 96-minute runtime. There is only one totally comedic scene that comes to mind: Reggie acting like his perception of the police to command a barroom, which does have a few light scenes on either side of it so that it doesn’t immediately seem out of place, but when the thread of plot is found again, it returns to being a grisly drama.
I thought that “buddy cop” as a genre existed in the 60s and 70s, but I found multiple examples citing this as the inspiration for the rest. Maybe it was just the beginning of a new wave of them, or maybe I’m lumping something slightly different in with them. It certainly does feel like a rough early example of the “two people who don’t mix, mix” concept, before it became a self-aware gimmick.
A second viewing would probably make the non-comedic non-action parts play better, since they weren’t what I was primed for. It’s far too easy to reduce it in memory to just Eddie Murphy cracking wise about hunting a cop-killer, but that makes up very little of it in actuality, and I think the rest may not be revolutionary, but is certainly more meaningful than driving the duo from bit to bit.