- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
an, 1982 was one hell of a year for movies. In doing some research for “48 Hrs.,” I came across a list of flicks released that year. Here are just some of the titles: “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “First Blood,” “My Favorite Year,” “Night Shift,” “Pink Floyd: The Wall,” and “Poltergeist.” Still not convinced? Try on “Blade Runner,” “Porky’s,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” and “Tootsie.” That’s still not even close to all the cool films that came out in ‘82, but they are some of the most memorable. “48 Hrs.” is, of course, another of those films, and even amongst all those titles, it somehow managed to be the seventh highest grossing film of the year. This was back when an R rating wasn’t the box office equivalent of a scarlet letter like it so often is today. A big movie loaded with skin, guns and four-letter words could be released and people didn’t freak out and postulate the end of civilization. Instead, they went to see it. Better days I guess, or at least different times.
“48 Hrs.” isn’t necessarily a great movie from today’s vantage point, but it was a highly influential one. It’s generally credited as the flick that jump-started the whole “buddy cop” formula which has been beat into the ground hard enough over the past 30 years that we might as well call it a dead horse. Funny thing about “48 Hrs.” – only one of the buddies is a cop; the other is a convict, who in the film’s most famous scene impersonates a cop. But that’s probably just splitting hairs, because the tone, structure and writing are all Buddy Cop 101. If one were to see “48 Hrs.” for the first time today, there’s a good chance they’d be underwhelmed, and wonder what all the fuss was about back in the day. The film’s been ripped off so many times over the years that all the originality it once possessed is nigh impossible to spot. “Halloween” is another good example of this.
Nick Nolte stars as Jack Cates, a cop who grumbles a lot, takes chances on the job, drinks heavily (as is evidenced by the flask he whips out in every other scene), and has no time for his girlfriend (Annette O’Toole, in the typically thankless role of the long-suffering babe). He’s on the trail of a ruthless escaped con and killer called Ganz (James Remar), and goes to Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) – another con who’s doing time and has ties to Ganz – for information. He pulls some strings and gets Reggie out of jail for 48 hours so that he can aid him in his quest. At first, the two men can’t stand one another, but a kinship of sorts gradually grows, and you can probably more or less guess the major plot points of the rest of the film without too much trouble.
Despite the cookie cutter plot, “48 Hrs.” has got two big things going for it: Eddie Murphy’s performance and Walter Hill’s direction. This was Murphy’s silver screen debut, and you can tell his aim is to make a lasting impression on audiences who’d only seen him on SNL, which he effortlessly appears to do. The movie – again by today’s standards – feels rote until he shows up, and then it takes on a life of its own. He’s the guiding force, and unlike the wisecracking “I’m smarter than every other character in this movie” persona he quickly (d)evolved into on the big screen, here there’s a genuine sense of fallibility to Reggie. The running gag of him trying to get laid backs this up. He isn’t always a smooth talker, and his shtick is shot down more times than not. The girl who finally does sleep with him almost seems to be giving him a pity fuck.
Then there’s that scene. It’s the scene that bucks the trend of the rest of the Murphy’s performance, and it’s the one that turned him into a movie star. He and Nolte go into a redneck bar looking for info. Murphy borrows Nolte’s badge, and the rest is movie history. Almost 30 years later and I still found myself in stitches. Nolte’s a great actor, and is in fact a far better actor than Murphy will ever be, but as Jack, it feels as though he’s mostly going through the motions. He’s done far better work since “48 Hrs.” on countless occasions, but the same can’t really be said about Murphy – at least not using the word countless. Speaking of Jack, mention must be made of all the racial slurs he slings at Reggie during the first half of the picture. We’d never see our hero engaging in such behavior in a big budget flick today. I’m on the fence about whether or not it was necessary, but it’s difficult to argue that it brings the character a realistic edge, especially once he apologizes to Reggie, and explains that he was just “trying to keep him down.”
Walter Hill directs the fuck out of this picture. One area where a lot of buddy cop flicks fail is in delivering an engaging series of set pieces. Not so here. There are at least a half a dozen kickin’ action scenes in this flick, and it’s unfortunate “48 Hrs.” often gets labeled a comedy since Murphy is the only funny aspect of the film. Everything else is dead serious, and the climax of the picture, when Nolte steps out of the darkness, seen in silhouette, is chilling and heroic all the same. He takes care of business and takes no prisoners.
“48 Hrs.” still works its early ‘80s magic provided you’re able to project the movie lover in you back to that time. Though the formula is dated, it still has the power to take viewers on a crazy, fun ride. Now if only this disc were as good as the movie itself.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray is a letdown. For starters, there’s only one extra, and that’s the film’s trailer. That might be forgivable if somebody had put some real work into the transfer, which is average at best. Does it look better than DVD? Sure. Is the image worthy of Blu-ray? Not so much. It’s too muddy in too many scenes, and lacks, dare I say it, definition. This is the kind of disc that really pisses me off because it doesn’t do the format any favors. What if somebody went out and bought a Blu-ray player and this was their first disc? What if “48 Hrs.” was their favorite movie, and they decided to take the plunge just so they could experience the film in 1080p high definition? Their first impression would be that the entire format is a big waste of time and money, and it’s just simply not. It’d be nice if the studios would get their crap together and stop treating consumers like idiots who’ll buy anything that’s thrown out there. Don’t get me wrong, this is a passable disc, but passable isn’t why we’re high def fanatics. We want the best, and that’s why we’ve invested in yet another movie collecting format. Since the technology exists to make a movie like this look the best it possibly can for Blu-ray, then that tech should be applied before asking folks to buy “48 Hrs.” for possibly the fourth or fifth time.