Before watching the Blu-ray copy of 48 Hrs., the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy buddy action film, I don’t think I’d watched it all the way through in nearly 20 years. I was curious to see how it had held up over time. It’s still a good action movie, and Eddie Murphy is pretty funny, but I didn’t remember it being so damn loud. It’s pretty easy (and unoriginal) to start a review of a 1980s Eddie Murphy movie by saying, “It reminds you that the guy who made Norbit and Pluto Nash was actually once a funny guy.” Unfortunately, that’s the thought that goes through your mind when you watch 1982’s 48 Hrs., starring a very young Murphy and Nick Nolte. Eddie Murphy used to be a very funny guy.
Murphy stars as Reggie Hammond, a con who is released from prison for the titular time period to help Jack Cates (Nick Nolte), a cop trying to run down a couple of psychos who shot two other cops and took Cates’ gun. The psychos (James Remar and Sonny Landham) are Reggie’s former partners, and Cates thinks Reggie will be able to lead him to the duo before they kill everyone they meet, which seems to be their M.O. A cop teaming with a con? It’s comic gold!
Prior to Cates heading to prison to pick up Reggie, which features a memorable introduction to Murphy’s screen career as he sings The Police’s “Roxanne” while listening to a Walkman, the movie seems like a typical renegade/alcoholic cop action film. Nolte plays him to perfection, with a screaming boss (Frank McRae), irritated girlfriend (Annette O’Toole), and a sense that he’s smarter, tougher, and righter than anyone else in the room. Unfortunately, up against Murphy’s obvious star power and comic timing, he doesn’t stand a chance.
Murphy steals every comic scene he’s in, and while the movie goes hard on the action, it doesn’t skimp on the funny lines. When he uses Cates’ badge to bluff his way into information at a cowboy bar, you still get the feeling that you’re watching a star being born. Nolte gets his own funny lines, but he just can’t keep up. His gruff cop starts to wear a little thin near the end, much as Murphy’s attempts to be a tough guy don’t ring quite true.
It’s a mistake to think of 48 Hrs. as a comedy, though. It’s first and foremost an action movie. Director Walter Hill is primarily known for action and Westerns, and he loves to have a shoot ‘em up. There are lots of them in this movie, including an unintentionally hilarious car chase/gun battle between a car and bus on the streets of San Francisco. Hill likes his gunshots LOUD, as well. Every other scene is punctuated by very, very loud shots as the main characters unload on each other with handguns time and time again.
In addition to the heavy emphasis on action, the movie is also rife with the most un-PC dialogue I can remember. Cates is a racist, and neither Cates nor Hammond have much use for women beyond a place to release pent-up sexual frustration. I’m not sure a current movie would make the two heroes so incredibly racist and sexist without giving them some “learning moment” late in the movie. This one doesn’t have one, other than the grudging respect you expect the two leads to show each other by the end. Spoiler alert: They do.
I find it hard to rate 48 Hrs. a classic, but it’s very well made and Murphy is as good as he was ever going to be. Nolte was right on the money in his part, and the combination of humor and action fits right into any 14- to 45-year-old male's wheelhouse. If it was a little less violent and a little less loud, I’d probably like it a lot more. If big fans of 48 Hrs. have been waiting for its HD release, they are likely going to be disappointed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the DVD version of the movie, but I can’t imagine there is enough of an upgrade to move from that version to the HD version. This is a pretty lousy disc.
The biggest problem is the picture, which is just not great. It’s not as bad as when you see a 30-year-old movie on television and it looks like someone drove over the film with a sand truck, but it’s not the usual HD quality you expect. I’ve seen better pictures in much older films, and this was a big hit, so was it the quality of the print or did they just do a half-assed job with the transfer? Who knows. There are some scenes that give the crispness and deep look you expect, but there are just as many that are either pretty SD looking or even have the dreaded VHS feel. I’m surprised, frankly, that whoever releases the HD product at Paramount didn’t do some quality control on this thing.
Of course, I guess they were spending all their time and money on the extras. In addition to the movie, the disc boasts loads of things any 48 Hrs. fan would want. Like a…trailer…and…uh…nothing else. The original trailer is included, but that’s the only extra. It’s interesting to watch a trailer from 1982, since they made them a lot differently back then. Of course, the trailer was run over by a sand truck, at least 50 times. It looks horrible.
Despite the fact that the movie is pretty good, I can’t really recommend getting the Blu-ray. The transfer is weak and the extras are non-existent. This is the movie that made Eddie Murphy an almost star (before Beverly Hills Cop launched him into orbit). Doesn’t it deserve any better than this?
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