- Movie Rating -

48hrs. (1982)

| December 8, 1982

Eddie Murphy seems to possess something that George C.  Scott called The Joy of Performance.  You can see him taking a lot of joy in his work and it is something that the audience can feel.  He wants to be there; he wants to entertain you and that’s something that you cannot fake.

I got that all through Walter Hill’s 48hrs., a hard-R cop buddy movie that takes advantage of Murphy’s gift for comedy by saddling him with an unlikely co-star.  You might not think that a fast-talking guy like Murphy would fit well with a run-down cop like the one played by Nick Nolte, but they do have a lot of chemistry.  They’re good together.

The story is, admittedly, off-the-shelf – a very dusty shelf.  Murphy is a low-level thief doing a two-and-a-half-year prison stretch with six months to go.  Nolte is a weary, drunken cop who is on the trail of a bunch of cop killers, one of whom has stolen his gun.  So, since Murphy has some information that might help find them, he allows him a 48-hour release so he can help.

The results, you can see coming.  They hate each other at first, distrust one another to the core, but gradually they begin to work their way up to only a moderate irritation, then by the end they’ve emerged at something called respect.  It’s an uneasy relationship and we expect that, in fact it is surprising that the movie doesn’t smooth these guys out.  They’re hard, they’re cynical and they stay that way

Murphy gets the praise for this movie, but I don’t want to dismiss Nick Nolte who slips very easily into this role.  He fits easily into this environment, not just playing a cop but a passive drunk who lies to his girlfriend.  He’s kind of like Popeye Doyle’s irresponsible cousin.

Yet, it is Murphy provides the magic here because Walter Hill’s script doesn’t seem to demand that he stay in place.  He has scenes here that feel ad-libbed, as if the director just let Murphy go.  He knows he has a gifted comedian on his hand and he seems to respect that.  This is something that the people handling Richard Pryor’s movie career don’t seem to understand.

Murphy has several brilliant comic scenes but one in particular stands out.  He and Nolte arrive at a bar and Murphy thinks that the bartender might have some valuable information, but it’s a redneck bar, the kind with deer heads on the wall right next to the Confederate flag and good ol’ boys in plaid sleeveless shirts suck on tall-boys while Mickey Gilley drones out of the jukebox.  The place is called Torchy’s for Heaven’s sake!  Obviously, Murphy stands out.  He brags about how controlled he is even in this environment, so Nolte allows him to impersonate a police officer.  And he does!  He controls the entire room which is loaded with guys who might otherwise take him out back for a country boy howdy.  He commands the scene, intimidates nearly everyone in the place and gets what he needs, including several guns and a switchblade.

This is the kind of scene that is talked about when looking back at the best moments of an actor’s career.  Murphy is completely in control of the room and of his own comic energy.  Outwardly, the scene has a lot to say, especially about the positioning of black actors in a action movie.  Any other time, it is the white guy dominating a room full of black man, but here we see the tables turned.  It’s amazing.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Comedy