Skip to main content

Not a very popular place with the brothers.


48 Hrs.
(1982)

As big screen debuts go, Eddie Murphy’s must be the one to beat. He arrives as a fully-formed star, and his performance as Reggie Hammond is deceptively confident. As the passing decades have proved, success on SNL is no guarantee of a sure-thing acting career. Murphy’s an instant natural, though. Yet he adopts a less out-and-out comic persona than in Beverly Hills Cop a couple of years later.  He’s able to fit seamlessly into Walter Hill’s supercharged cop action and isn’t at all out of place trading insults with “proper” actor Nick Nolte. Could you imagine Chevy Chase doing the same? It’s the banter, and unlikely chemistry, between Murphy and Nolte that ensure 48 Hrs. is still worth a look, but there's not much else to it.

Credit where it’s due, though. This film launched the whole buddy cop movie cycle and established any number of careers, not just Murphy’s. Walter Hill’s career was beginning to take off, but 48 Hrs. gave it a huge shot in the arm. Known for his eclectic explorations of masculinity, his ‘70s filmography saw him working with Charles Bronson before helming the little-seen existential crime thriller The Driver. Then he scored a minor hit with The Warriors, a movie that would quickly achieve enormous cult status. His follow-ups, western The Long Riders and the Deliverance-esque Southern Comfort, also did reasonable business. Post-48 Hrs. he attempted his boldest experiment, the rather flaccid mythic rock action flick Streets of Fire, before losing his way completely with a remake of the comedy Brewster’s Millions (a big hit, however). Mostly he stuck to his male-centric action oeuvre, but his only really big subsequent hit was the weak cash grab of Another 48 Hrs. in 1990.

Just a glance at the main production credits is a who’s who of some of the main players of the next decade. Joel Silver’s first big film as producer, he (and sometime co-producer Lawrence Gordon; 48 Hrs. was his idea) would quickly vault to the throne as reigning monarch of Hollywood action movies (Simpson and Bruckheimer would ultimately contest this claim). Co-writer Roger Spottiswoode was developing a hit-and-miss directorial career (it would continue in this vein). Steven E. De Souza had slogged it out in TV for the best part of the ‘70s; this was his big movie break and he’d become a regular on Silver productions (most notably Die Hard). Composer James Horner was beginning to make his mark also (this came out the same year as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

But, for all the four screenplay credits (also Hill and Larry Gross), the plot is paper-thin. Crazy James Remar breaks out of a chain gang and, as any unfiltered psychopath does, gleefully blows away anyone who hinders his quest for the loot from a drug deal gone wrong. Nolte’s cop Jack Cates reluctantly releases Murphy’s con Reggie from prison for 48 hours, on the understanding that the latter will help him find Remar.

The project had been around for several years, with Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor mooted. Other names included Mickey Rourke, Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges and Gregory Hines. When Murphy got the part he pressed for a change of his character name “Willie Biggs” to something that was less of a “Hollywood, made-up, black guy’s name”; he said the charge could still be levelled at first name of the compromise, Reggie Hammond. Even when 48 Hrs. finally got off the ground, the problems weren’t over. Paramount got very antsy that the film was too violent, that Murphy wasn’t funny enough, etc.

Everything rests on the love-hate relationship between Nolte and Murphy, and it more than scores in that department. There's an abundance of eyebrow-raising casual racism from Cates, and bruisingly casual macho sexism from everyone. The signature scene of Murphy in a redneck bar is still a lot of fun (“I’m your worst fuckin’ nightmare, man. I’m a nigger with a badge…”), but the script falls short as far as the cop stuff goes. There's certainly no detective work, and if a cop movie is only as good as its villain then this definitely isn't one of the all times greats. Remar’s (Dexter's dad, and in some circles still best known as the guy who played Hicks for about a week in Aliens - what a claim to fame) only motivation is to act mental.

In spite of the winning banter between the leads, perhaps the most fun is to be had in playing "spot the supporting actor and the things they’ve gone on to do"; Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks is in there, who I suddenly retrospectively recognise with hair – he also appears in Gremlins. Favourite rent-a-thug Brion James plays a cop. Predator's Sonny Landham breaks out Remar. Twin Peaks actors David Patrick Kelly and Chris Mulkey play a lowlife and a patrolman respectively. Denise Crosby wields a baseball bat at Murphy in a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation part. Best of all is Frank McRae, who delivers more laughs than Murphy and Nolte combined, as the latter’s splenetic captain. He would memorably riff on it in Schwarzenegger’s meta-action vehicle Last Action Hero.

Walter Hill ensures the action scenes are a big and sinewy, but in a very mannered post-Peckinpah style. You could drive a fleet of trucks through the spaces between the explosive gunfire, and Nolte's final takedown is a pure Royale with Cheese moment.

The end result is equal cop movie cliché and witty banter; Murphy and Nolte propel the piece now as surely as they did when it was first released, but the steroidal bombast of the action has become rather quaint and dated.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…