48 Hrs., 1982.
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Annette O’Toole, James Remar, Sonny Landham, and David Patrick Kelly.
Eddie Murphy’s break-out hit 48 Hrs. arrives again on Blu-ray, this time sporting greatly improved image quality thanks to a new 4K remaster, along with two new bonus features. It’s a worthwhile upgrade for those who have the earlier disc.
Paramount has been on an Eddie Murphy kick in recent months, presumably because of the recent release of Coming 2 America on Amazon Prime. They issued Beverly Hills Cop on 4K, along with Trading Places and Coming to America on Blu-ray, and now they’ve remastered 48 Hrs. from a 4K film transfer for a new Blu-ray edition. (No word on a 4K release.) Another 48 Hrs. was given the same treatment and will be discussed in a separate review.
48 Hrs. may not have been the first buddy cop movie, but its success ushered in a slew of imitators and parodies during the decades since its 1982 release. A major part of its success was Eddie Murphy’s role as Reggie Hammond. He played a convicted felon with a 48-hour prison pass to help grizzled detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) catch career criminal Albert Ganz (James Remar), who ran away from a chain gang with help from his Native American buddy Billy Bear (Sonny Landham).
Reggie has his own reason for getting a hold of Albert: fellow criminal Luther Kelly (David Patrick Kelly) has access to a satchel of his money, which Ganz wants too. Of course, a convicted felon isn’t going to necessarily spill everything he knows to the cops, which leads to plenty of frustrations for Jack as he uses Reggie to follow leads that keep going nowhere.
The script, which is attributed to several writers in the credits, has a few logical gaps that become apparent when trying to connect the story dots, but the real pleasure in 48 Hrs. comes from watching Murphy and Nolte verbally spar in every scene, with dialogue that crackles. Murphy’s career trajectory seems obvious now in retrospect, but back then, it wasn’t clear that he could parlay his Saturday Night Live success into a film career, especially one involving plenty of action roles.
Murphy doesn’t even show up in this film until about 25 minutes in, and it’s his voice we encounter first, singing “Roxanne” by The Police at the top of his lungs as Jack lumbers down the row of cells. It’s a moment that was referenced often back in the 80s, and director Walter Hill notes in the accompanying interview that Murphy came up with it during filming because the scene as originally written wasn’t quite working. It was a brilliant bit of improv, and it showed that the comedian had instincts beyond comedy sketches and stand-up routines.
The interview with Hill runs about 19 minutes and is the only bonus feature on this new disc, aside from the theatrical trailer and the full version of the “Space Kid” cartoon that Albert watches in a hotel room. It was recorded with him recently and was clearly filmed via Zoom or some other video conference software. The director talks about how the project came about as an idea by producer Lawrence Gordon and was in development for a few years, with Richard Pryor and Clint Eastwood considered for the felon and cop roles, respectively, at one point.
Hill was known as an action thriller director, and he says that the studio was worried he would lean too heavily on that part of 48 Hrs. and not as much on the comedic aspect that Murphy was expected to bring to the film. Indeed, the movie is really a straight-up action story until Murphy shows up – in retrospect, I think it probably would have been better to get his character into the film earlier, although Hill doesn’t offer any thoughts on that subject.
However, Hill does touch on something that struck me as I revisited 48 Hrs. for the first time in many years: there’s quite a bit of racist language and plenty of stereotypes thrown around, both of the African-American and Native American variety. Sure, Jack says toward the end of the film that he treated Reggie that way as part of his job, but there are numerous examples of that kind of language from other characters. (A side note: The story takes place in San Francisco, but California overall was much more conservative back then.)
Finally, the transfer used here seems to be an improvement from Paramount’s 2011 Blu-ray of the film, from what I’ve read online, since I don’t have that earlier disc. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since this version is based on a new 4K remaster. 48 Hrs. looks as good as it will get until a 4K release happens. The studio tossed in a code for a digital copy too.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★