Judge Patrick Bromley wants the rest of you cowboys to know something. There's a new sheriff in town.
Walter Hill's buddy cop classic makes its HD debut and reminds us of a time when Nick Nolte was only pretending not to be sober and Eddie Murphy became a star in just one movie.
Facts of the Case
When burned-out, gravel-voiced San Francisco cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte, The Thin Red Line) needs to track down two cop-killing escaped cons (James Remar, The Girl Next Door and Sonny Predator Landham), he's forced to enlist the help of their former partner, an incarcerated thief named Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy, Coming to America) to help. Cates gets Hammond a 48-hour leave from prison to track down the two cons (and some stolen money) and solve the case—if only they don't kill each other first.
Come on. You knew I was going to say that.
It's remarkable that, nearly 30 years after it was first released in theaters, Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. still packs such a punch. A tough, foul-mouthed and violent (it is, after all, a Walter Hill movie) thriller, 48 Hrs. may not have been the first "buddy cop" movie ever made, but it just may be the most influential. Every entry in the genre afterwards—and, to be clear, there were many, from Lethal Weapon to Cop Out—has just followed suit.
Over the years, 48 Hrs. has garnered a reputation for being an "action comedy." It is funny, with a then-21-year old Eddie Murphy (fresh off a stint as a cast member on Saturday Night Live) becoming a superstar overnight thanks to his electric performance as Reggie Hammond. But the film is more of a hard-boiled actioner with a character who happens to be very funny. It's not Rush Hour, in which almost every character and scene is somehow played for laughs (and I say that as someone who likes Rush Hour). In fact, 48 Hrs. still feels just as mean and nasty as it did in 1982—possibly even more so, thanks to almost three decades of political correctness. This is a movie with race very much on its mind, forever bubbling just under the surface and threatening to boil over at any minute. The scene in which it finally does—Eddie Murphy taking total control of a redneck bar and putting every patron in his place—has been correctly identified by Roger Ebert as the scene that made Murphy a star overnight.
Like a lot of early Murphy movies, watching 48 Hrs. today makes me ever so nostalgic for the comedian's earliest films, in which he was quick-talking and edgy and utterly magnetic. He felt dangerous and unpredictable, but we are always on his side. It's the Murphy that's still young and hungry, before his career would give way to self-indulgent vanity projects (Harlem Nights, Boomerang) and, eventually, hollow, pandering "family" comedies (just about anything in the post-Nutty Professor catalogue). This and Trading Places remain my favorites in Murphy's filmography. While I'm still not the world's biggest fan of Nick Nolte, it's hard to utter an unkind word about his performance in 48 Hrs.; he's less an actor and more a natural resource. Casting Nick Nolte as a burned-out, hard-drinking cop, you don't need to waste any time on character background or exposition. He's cinematic shorthand.
Unfortunately, 48 Hrs. is making a rather inauspicious debut on Blu-ray. While it still constitutes an upgrade over my standard DVD copy (which isn't even anamorphic, because I never made the switch to the double feature packaged with the lamentable sequel, Another 48 Hrs.), it's one of the more disappointing catalogue titles I've come across. The 1080p transfer is uneven: some scenes look clean and terrific, but a lot more look soft and aged and washed out. The disc is decent at best, disappointingly inconsistent at worst. The TrueHD audio track fares somewhat better, delivering the dialogue cleanly in the center channel and providing the right amount of kick during the movie's thundering gunfights (few directors film louder shootouts than Walter Hill; for proof, check out Last Man Standing). The single weak extra feature included is the movie's original theatrical trailer, which, at the very least, is presented in HD.
It's unfortunate that Paramount hasn't afforded a better HD treatment for 48 Hrs., but it's one of the few '80s movies that still holds up and deserves to retain its reputation as a true tough-guy classic. I love buddy cop movies, and this remains one of the best of all time.
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