Friday, November 07, 2014
Murphy had fewer than two full seasons of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE under his belt when he was cast by director Walter Hill (THE WARRIORS) to play black con artist Reggie Hammond in a rollicking, profane, exciting, and darkly funny screenplay credited to Hill, Roger Spottiswoode (who next directed Nolte in UNDER FIRE), Larry Gross (STREETS OF FIRE), and Steven E. de Souza (DIE HARD). It’s a terrific role that fits Murphy so well that it’s impossible to imagine any other comedian of 1982 playing it.
Take, for instance, The Scene. If anyone sitting in a theater watching 48 HRS. were still, up to that point, unsure about Murphy’s ability to hold the screen, all doubts disappeared when Murphy as Hammond wanders into a redneck bar filled with crackers and bigots and takes complete control in a dazzling display of bravado and fast thinking. By the time Murphy John-Wayne-walks out of the bar after verbally demolishing everyone in it, a star has been born.
48 HRS. is a comedy, but it’s primarily an action movie about cops chasing bad guys in San Francisco. The combination of brutal violence and big laughs was unusual in 1982, but the critical and commercial success of 48 HRS. led to many imitators, including the LETHAL WEAPON series and Murphy’s BEVERLY HILLS COP, which was an even bigger smash than 48 HRS.
Nolte plays Jack Cates, a typical-for-the-movies burned-out cop on the trail of a couple of killers named Ganz (James Remar) and Billy Bear (Sonny Landham, graduating to the mainstream from the porn world). It’s personal for Cates, because one of their victims, a fellow detective (Jonathan Banks), was killed with his .44. His best chance is to spring Ganz’s old running buddy, Hammond, from prison and let Reggie lead him to the killers.
Why Cates thinks this would work is beyond me, but his plan leads to a pretty terrific crime drama packed with rich characters, taut Hill action sequences, biting dialogue, and ribald humor. The plot doesn’t make complete since, and the concept of two men stuck together who bicker and fight but learn to like each other wasn’t fresh even in 1982. But it’s often the singers, not the song, and with Hill’s unique macho directing style perfectly tuned to Murphy’s and Nolte’s wavelengths, 48 HRS. plays like a true original.