Sunday, December 29, 2013

Revisiting 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy's Exciting Film Debut

Eddie Murphy successfully made the transition from the small screen to the big screen in his star-making role in 48 Hrs.

The film 48 Hrs. celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012. It's hard to believe that it's been more than three decades since 48 Hrs. opened in theaters back in December of 1982. The action comedy provided a perfect showcase for Murphy's edgy, rapid-fire brand of humor and charismatic personality. It was an extremely impressive film debut for the 21-year-old comic.

Although Murphy had proven that he was an immensely talented comedian and performer on Saturday Night Live, there were still some doubts that he would able to transfer that magic to the big screen. Many other talented SNL performers had attempted to make that transition, but most failed; John Belushi and a few others were the exceptions. Murphy's startling performance in 48 Hrs. removed any doubts about his film career, and he went on to become one of the biggest box office stars of all time.

 48 Hrs. is often credited as being the first buddy-cop action/comedy. After its success, an onslaught of these type of films were produced by Hollywood. And the genre is still very popular today. 48 Hrs. remains one of the best of the genre. It's everything a buddy-cop action/comedy should be. It's extremely funny, has great action sequences, and it keeps viewers thoroughly entertained throughout. And it has two dynamic leads in Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. The film also has a truly detestable villain, which is essential for a film in this genre. In addition, the film, which was directed by action maven Walter Hill, possesses a gritty authenticity that many other films of the genre lack.

Murphy plays convict Reggie Hammond who's serving a three-year prison term for armed robbery. With just six months to go on his sentence, he's given a 48-hour temporary release to help San Francisco police detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) track down psycho bad guy Albert Ganz (James Remar). Ganz was recently sprung from a prison road gang by his hulking partner in crime Billy Bear (Sonny Landham). Not long after busting out of prison, Ganz gets into a shootout with Cates and two other detectives, who happened upon the escaped con while investigating some stolen credit cards. Cates is the only one of the cops to survive the shootout. And to add insult to injury, Ganz gets a hold of Cates' gun during the shootout and kills one of the detectives with it. Reggie's connection to Ganz is that they were both part of a crew that robbed a big-time drug dealer for half a million dollars. Reggie hid the money shortly before his arrest and wants to retrieve it before Ganz finds out where it is.

Reggie and Cates start out despising each other, but the two eventually gain a grudging respect for one another; and by the end of the film, they have developed a tentative friendship. Nick Nolte is spot-on as the crusty, hard-drinking detective Jack Cates. Nolte brings a seen-it-all world weariness to the role that just rings true: the tired gravelly voice, the leaden gait, the gruff demeanor. Everything he does feels natural, right down to the brusque manner in which he flicks his lit cigarette to the ground. And Murphy was not the only one whose career benefited from the film. Nolte's star also rose. He and Murphy have great chemistry in their scenes together. The two riff off one another like a pair of seasoned jazz musicians. In the documentary Nick Nolte: No Exit, Nolte said that most of the dialogue between him and Murphy was improvised.

A good buddy-cop action/comedy always needs a great villain, and James Remar as the vicious psychopath Albert Ganz more than fits the bill. Like Murphy and Nolte in their roles, Remar is perfectly cast as Ganz. Remar exudes menace every time he appears on screen. He's one scary bad guy, a snarling homicidal maniac whose eyes light up when he's killing someone. Ganz is one of the great action-flick villains.

It's interesting to note that 48 Hrs. probably couldn't be made today due to the racially charged dialogue between the two main characters. Cates throws some particularly nasty racial epithets at Reggie, even calling him the N-word at one point in the film. This no doubt would cause a bit of a stir in the overly sensitive PC world that we live in today. You're not going to find many buddy cop flicks nowadays where one of the lead characters, whom the audience is supposed to root for, throwing those type of racial slurs around. Today, if such epithets are used, they're usually confined to the bad guy to make him appear even worse to the audience. Ironically, Ganz, the villain of 48 Hrs., doesn't use any racial slurs towards Reggie, and his trusted right-hand man, Billy Bear, is Native American. So Ganz may be a psychotic, remorseless killer, but he doesn't appear to be a racist.

Also, the attitude the characters have towards women probably wouldn't go over so well today either. Reggie calls two women that he and Cates run across "a couple of dykes" and basically talks to a woman he just met at a club like she's a prostitute, asking her for sex straight away and in a very crude fashion. And she acts like Reggie's the most charming guy ever who just threw a really smooth line at her.

Additionally, the dialogue is replete with four-letter words. But the racial slurs, the profanity and other non-PC language is one of the things that gives the film its sense of authenticity, of how people really talk in a world of hardened criminals and jaded, desensitized cops who see the worst of humanity on a daily basis. These guys are not going to be running around worried if what they say may offend somebody.

The scene where Reggie single-handedly intimidates all the patrons of a redneck bar is probably the film's biggest highlight. On pure attitude and the force of his personality alone, Murphy totally dominates the scene. He made you believe that Reggie armed with only a badge, his wits and a ton of attitude could thoroughly intimidate all the patrons of that bar. That's the moment when Murphy became a film star. He's had a few more great scenes like this during his film career, but they have been too few and far between of late. He's spent the last 15 years or so starring mainly in family-oriented films where we rarely see that brash, mouthy hot shot who rousted that bar in 48 Hrs.

Many of Murphy's fans miss that edgy, irreverent guy who blew audiences away playing funny, street-smart bad boys. His recent role as a thief in the comedy Tower Heist looks like a step in the right direction. Many critics have praised Murphy's performance as a welcome return to form. Hopefully, he's encouraged by the positive reviews and will take on more roles like that and not go back to solely making family films for a fat paycheck.

48 HRS. at Amazon