Jack Cates is a hard-nosed cop who is paired up with Reggie Hammond -- a convict who is released from prison in Cates's custody for 48 hours in order to help Cates track down a pair of maniacal cop killers.
Eddie Murphy made his big-screen debut as the loud-mouthed, slick-talking, con artist Reggie Hammond in the very funny '48 Hrs.' The role was initially intended for Richard Pryor, but in the hands of the hilarious 'SNL' comedian, it's difficult to imagine anyone else seizing control of an all-white, country-music barroom with such uproarious plausibility. Proving he could make the jump from sketch sitcom to feature film, he's comfortable in the role of a convict looking to get even with the man who sold him out. Although his co-star takes top billing, Murphy shows he's the highlight and attraction of this action comedy favorite.
Nick Nolte also stars as the scruffy, alcoholic and irritable detective Jack Cates, who is stumped on the case of a cop-killing, escaped prisoner, Albert Ganz (James Remar). When learning that Hammond once worked with the violent thief, Cates uses him on a 48-hour leave from prison to apprehend Ganz before he does further damage on the streets of San Francisco. Like Murphy, Nolte is perfect in the part of a bad-tempered, tough-minded police officer greatly lacking in social skills. He doesn't seem liked much to others in his department, and his girlfriend, Elaine (Annette O'Toole), is running out of patience with his grumpy personality.
Showing a rather workmanlike skill behind the camera, director Walter Hill ('Warriors,' 'Crossroads,' 'Red Heat') is adept at balancing the comedy along with the action, although he seems more proficient in the latter than the former. What makes the movie work so well is the chemistry between the two stars — viewers genuinely get a kick out of watching the banter between the two men. And it's fairly clear that Hill takes a step back to give the actors plenty of breathing room to make the most of their portrayals. Afterwards, he takes over with exciting shootouts and a car chase involving a stolen bus and Jack's sky-blue Cadillac.
While putting the two stars on a wild goose-chase where the criminals always seem to have the upper hand, Hill unwittingly took moviegoers through a new genre that would eventually become popular in the 80s and 90s. Although the "buddy film" can be traced back to such comedy duos as Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Crosby & Hope, and Martin & Lewis, '48 Hrs.' stands out as unique not only for incorporating the police procedural, but also for emphasizing the relationship of the two male leads as they form a deeper friendship. The movie also confronts the issue of race head-on, which makes their bond that much more meaningful.
Since its release, '48 Hrs.' is celebrated as the archetype for such buddy action comedies as 'Lethal Weapon,' 'Bad Boys,' 'Rush Hour' and 'Shanghai Knights.' The movie also introduced the hilarious and commanding presence of Eddie Murphy to audiences everywhere, winning him his first Golden Globe nomination. With strong direction by Walter Hill, the genre piece lives on more for the rancorous but comical relationship of Nolte and Murphy than anything else. Still, that's good enough reason to enjoy this hilarious 80s flick again and again.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings '48 Hrs.' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, housed in a blue eco-case. Once in the player, viewers are soon greeted by the typical selection of menu options with a still image of the two leads. One issue of concern has to do with the ugly cover art. As a fan, I would much prefer the original poster on the front than this so-called modernized version.
Paramount gives fans of '48 Hrs.' on Blu-ray with a troubled and uneven 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1). Most of the visible issues are likely related to the quality of the print used and not a problem with the encode itself. But we're also left to wonder if it's not something easily remedied with a remaster of the original negatives.
Definition and resolution are not very impressive and generally fall on the softer side of things. Except for a few scenes that are quite detailed and distinct, especially outdoors in the daylight, the image is not much of a looker. Shadow delineation appears average, and there are minor instances of crush throughout.
Still, the picture does come with some positives, such as a well-balanced contrast level, allowing for plenty of visibility and good clarity. Blacks could be a tad deeper, but that's a negligible complaint as they're mostly rendered accurate and true. Colors, too, display fine saturation with bold reds and greens, and skin tones appear natural and healthy. A faint layer of film grain is noticeable and consistent, giving the video a nice texture.
In the end, '48 Hrs.' makes a passable jump to high definition, but it also looks quite dated and in need of a remaster.
On the other hand, the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is an example of too much tinkering and a mediocre attempt at updating the original design, despite sounding better than it actually looks.
The biggest gripe is some discrete effects in the surrounds which feel forced and easily localized. It's not a continuous issue, but when it does happen, it's so obvious and blatant that it distracts from enjoying the rest of the track. There's also the fact that they're obnoxiously louder than necessary, drawing attention to how phony they truly are.
As a purist, this is quite the disappointment. However, where the audio succeeds most is when it functions more properly as a stereo presentation. With a perfectly-balanced channel separation, the highly-active soundstage feels expansive and spacious, delivering well-prioritized and always intelligible vocals. The mid-range is sharply rendered with good detail and cleanliness. Several off-screen sounds create an imaging that's somewhat convincing and welcoming. Although not very forceful or powerful, low bass is appropriate for the age of the film and enough to give action scenes some depth. Overall, it's a good lossless mix of a fun 80s action comedy, but the faux sound effects ultimately ruin a bit of its enjoyment.
For this Blu-ray edition of '48 Hrs.,' Paramount has only seen fit to include a Theatrical Trailer (HD). With the movie's 30th year looming ahead us, it's possible we'll see an anniversary edition with a better collection of supplements. As it stands, this is a disappointing supplemental package.
With great performances from Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, '48 Hrs.' is the celebrated buddy film that inadvertently started a genre trend throughout the 80s and 90s. Today, it continues to be enjoyed as a memorable action comedy full of hilarity and excitement. The Blu-ray arrives with an average audio and video presentation that will not likely impress many fans. The lack of supplements also adds to the disappointment, but overall, the package makes for a decent rental.