I hadn’t seen 48 Hrs. in years, so when it came on cable in the highest definition possible I had to watch it again. I was pleasantly surprised. I like this movie a lot better than the more successful Beverly Hills Cop, because I get sick of Murphy’s annoying laugh in it. In this one, he’s still funny but everything is much more gritty and serious. “Jolty Nolte” is Jack Cates, the gravelly, grungy cop who needs his help tracking down a vicious escaped convict.
The movie’s got some good songs- Walter Hill manages to get some good songs recorded for his movies. “In the City” by Joe Walsh from The Warriors; the songs from Streets of Fire, and “The Boys Are Back in Town” here, which became a minor hit. It’s a good rockin’ R&B song with honky tonk piano, and gives the Thin Lizzy song a run for its money.
The movie takes itself just seriously enough- the gunfights are like old Westerns where the revolvers have upwards of 12 rounds, cops pop out of nowhere to give the bad guys some cannon fodder, and our heroes break as many laws as the criminals in their pursuit of justice … or revenge.
The film is pretty brutal. The convicts start out by blasting a few chain gang guards and then a few cops on their tail; Nolte is backup for two of the cops, and he gives up his gun when they’ve got another cop dead in their sights. They shoot the cop with Nolte’s gun, but he escapes, and relentlessly pursues them. Eddie Murphy comes into the game straight from Saturday Night Live, in his first starring role. He’s brash, crude and funny without embracing the persona he’d use from Beverly Hills Cop onward; in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places he was less sure of himself and wasn’t marketed as a star, so he plays a real character. Billy Ray Valentine and Reggie Hammond are two of his best.
The film is one of the last I remember where the n-word was thrown around with relative abandon by whites and blacks alike. It stares the racial divide right in the face, and lets Nolte and Murphy brawl it out right in the streets. Even the black police chief, played perfectly by Frank McCrae, uses it. Eddie Murphy calls himself one to a bar full of rednecks. The movie records the late-70’s early-80’s cowboy craze, where every other bar seemed to have a mechanical bull and fucking Kenny Rogers on the jukebox. Cates gives Reggie his badge so he can rough up the bar and get the location of Billy Bear, the American Indian who broke the main bad guy Ganz out of prison.
Another suspect who helps lead them to Ganz is Luther, played by David Patrick Kelly- Sully from Commando. He’s actually sympathetic here, the sad sack who gets a Cadillac door to the crotch from Reggie, and later has his girlfriend held hostage by the bad guys. Sully is just one link to Commando in this movie; it also has a steel drum soundtrack by James Horner, and Sully drives a Porsche! Sure, it’s Reggie’s car and a different model, but I wonder if Mr. Kelly takes these roles based on whether he gets to drive a Porsche or not.
The movie is a bit formulaic but the action is very good, and I’d put it up there with the first Lethal Weapon as a buddy movie. The chemistry is that good, though the races are reversed as to who the funny man is. The sequel, Another 48 Hours wasn’t nearly as good, but wasn’t as terrible as Lethal Weapon 3 and 4. If you haven’t seen this in a while, or have only seen it cut for TV, give it another try. It’s a damn good movie.