From 1982, “48 Hrs.” remains one of the better action-comedy buddy pictures you’ll find. Eddie Murphy is a hyperkinetic standout in his first major motion picture, and Nick Nolte matches him shot for shot in his more casual, laid-back manner. They make a good team, so good, in fact, that they returned a few years later for a sequel, “Another 48 Hrs.” But we’ve got the first one here on Blu-ray disc, and it’s nice to have it in high definition.
One interesting thing to notice is that Nick Nolte got top billing for the movie; indeed, Eddie Murphy doesn’t even enter the picture until well into the plot. Eight years later when the two actors made the sequel, it was Murphy who would get top billing. Times and careers change.
The movie starts right off with a fairly exciting prison escape, followed only a few minutes later by an equally intense gunfight. So far, there’s not a lot of humor showing, not, that is, until Murphy shows up.
Nolte plays Jack Cates, a high-strung, world-weary San Francisco police detective. The first time we meet him he’s fighting with his girlfriend, Elaine (Annette O’Toole in much too small a role). Then we follow him to the aforementioned shoot-out, where an escaped convict, Albert Ganz (James Remar, always a good villain), is blasting away a pair of Jack’s policeman friends. Jack is the typically hard-nosed, tough-guy cop we see only in the movies, who, like Dirty Harry before him, likes to work alone and hates following orders. When the homicidal maniac Ganz guns down Jack’s friends, Jack vows to bring Ganz in, despite his commanding officer, Capt. Haden (Frank McRae as a predictably bellowing police captain), ordering him not to seek revenge.
Here’s where Murphy finally comes in (coming in later than you might have remembered). He plays a San Quentin convict, Reggie Hammond, a thief who once worked with Ganz. Jack’s idea is to free Reggie for forty-eight hours in order for Reggie to help him catch Ganz. Reggie realizes that with Ganz on the loose, the idiot might just come after him, giving Reggie reason to help Jack bring him in. (Although, to be fair, Reggie seems more interested in his few hours release to pursue sex rather than pursue Ganz.)
So, we’ve got a grumpy, white, maybe racist cop paired with a wisecracking, black, maybe racist con, and, naturally, the results are going to be explosive. If these two don’t kill each other in the process, they might just get their man.
Here’s something I hadn’t noticed before: The relationship between Jack and Reggie is strongly reminiscent of that between Shrek and Donkey a couple of decades later. The exchanges between the two men have to have influenced the later “Shrek” writers, they are so very obvious and the humor so much the same.
Anyway, Nolte and Murphy play characters they would repeat many times over in their careers. Nolte is the cranky, hard-assed loner; Murphy is the cool, happy-go-lucky jive talker. The differences in their styles make for splendid fireworks and reward the viewer in almost every scene. Co-writer and director Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “The Long Riders,” “Red Heat,” “Last Man Standing”) keeps the pace moving at a healthy clip while avoiding the usual San Francisco postcard shots, instead confining the action mainly to darker, seedier locales. So, while the friction between Nolte’s and Murphy’s characters continues, we get a hard-edged look with the film as well. The noir appearance adds to the frisson and excitement, while Murphy’s continuous and seemingly improvisational quips and behavior lighten the mood of what might otherwise have been just another crime film.
“48 Hours” is not as funny as Murphy’s later “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, which are clearly derivative of the earlier film, nor is “48 Hours” as funny as most of us who haven’t seen it for many years remember it. Still, it’s a good, taut, surprisingly brief action comedy, with the primary emphasis on the action. Would it have succeeded as well as it does without Nolte and Murphy in the lead roles? I doubt it.
The 1.85:1 transfer comes to us via a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 AVC codec. The first thing we notice is the grain in the picture, largely because the filmmakers open with outdoor location shots; later in the film we notice similar grain in additional locations shooting, but it’s not at all objectionable and gives the image body and texture. Besides, there are many other location shots that show only the thinnest veneer of grain, and indoor shots show little grain at all. I’d say if you’re dead set against grain, even that grain which is naturally inherent to the print–the way it showed up originally in a theater–you may object to some of it here; but if you give the film a chance, you won’t even know it’s there.
Beyond the minor grain issue, you’ll find mostly decent color; at least stable black levels; and realistic facial tones. While definition varies from scene to scene, sometimes soft, sometimes sharp, it is acceptable and should not disappoint viewers.
Paramount audio engineers provide a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, which does its job commendably well, even if the sound doesn’t offer the kind of blockbuster experience many of today’s movies do. There is, for instance, an admirably clear midrange, a wide front-channel stereo spread, an ample dynamic range, a solid impact, and a pleasing mid-bass warmth. There is not much surround activity, though, the rear speakers confined to a few car noises, bullet ricochets, and whatever else one’s audio receiver can muster up.
If it’s extras you’re looking for, you won’t find them here. I suppose Paramount had little or nothing to offer in this department, or they would have included more than just a widescreen theatrical trailer. Well, at least it’s in high definition. Beyond the trailer, we get fifteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
If “48 Hrs.” seems to have lost a little of its edge over the years, it’s probably because we’ve seen so many other movies imitate it since. Remember, movies like the “Lethal Weapon” series and even “Another 48 Hrs.” came later. “48 Hrs.” was a one-of-a-kind film for its day, and even without quite the impact it used to have, it’s still entertaining.