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Eddie Murphy’s 1982 Buddy Cop Classic Still Holds up Today


Eddie Murphy's 1982 Buddy Cop Classic Still Holds up Today


Summary

  • Eddie Murphy’s performance in
    48 Hrs.
    marked the beginning of his rise to superstardom in Hollywood.
  • Murphy’s presence in the film transcended traditional roles, showcasing his dynamic talent and captivating energy.
  • The on-screen chemistry between Murphy and Nick Nolte was an inspiration for future buddy cop films, influencing franchises like
    Lethal Weapon
    .



Eddie Murphy was only 19 when he made his first appearance on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in 1980 when the show was reeling from the departures of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Murphy singularly revitalized Saturday Night Live while establishing himself as the most exciting comedic talent of his generation. By the time he left Saturday Night Live in 1984, he was arguably the hottest star in Hollywood.

Murphy made his feature film debut in the 1982 action comedy film 48 Hrs., in which he plays Reggie Hammond, a convicted felon who’s freed from prison for 48 hours to help a gruff San Francisco cop track down two violent fugitives with whom Reggie shares a criminal history. While his comedic skills are showcased to great effect in 48 Hrs., beginning with a now iconic prison scene in which Reggie sings “Roxanne” by The Police in a high-pitched falsetto voice, he never breaks character and upstages the material by falling back into his Saturday Night Live mannerisms. Murphy turns Reggie into an interesting character with a checkered past and an uncertain future.


Like the greatest film stars, his presence in 48 Hrs. is as captivating and expansive as his trademark laugh. Given the sheer joy of performance that he displays in 48 Hrs., as well as Murphy’s next film, the 1983 comedy Trading Places, it’s hardly surprising that he has referred to this era as being the happiest and most creatively fulfilling period of his career.


Eddie Murphy Took Control of 48 Hrs.

48hrs poster

48 Hrs.

Release Date
September 4, 1982

48 Hrs., which was directed by action specialist Walter Hill, was originally intended to be a starring vehicle for Nick Nolte, who was paid $1 million for the role of Jack Cates, the renegade San Francisco cop who enlists a convict to help Jack catch fugitives who have murdered several of Jack’s fellow cops. When Nolte first became attached to the role of Jack, the role of convict Reggie Hammond was originally slated to be played by Richard Pryor, who was then followed by Gregory Hines.


However, while Nolte delivers an excellent performance in 48 Hrs., in which Jack’s essential purpose is to provide a steely counterpoint to the fast-talking Reggie, Eddie Murphy, who was paid less than $500,000 for 48 Hrs., dominates the film, just as Reggie increasingly takes charge within the film’s core cop-crook relationship.

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If the most notable achievement of 48 Hrs. is the film’s uncanny ability to take the most familiar genre elements and make these recycled parts seem exciting and fresh through sheer energy and excellence of execution, the most dynamic ingredient of 48 Hrs. is Murphy, whose electrifying presence is most responsible for enabling 48 Hrs. to transcend its various formulas and avoid being a routine action film.


Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte Are Great Together

The effective on-screen chemistry between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte is vital to the success of 48 Hrs., which became the template for the buddy cop genre, as evidenced by the various 48 Hrs. imitators that arrived throughout the 1980s and 1990s, most notably with the Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour franchises.

The dynamic of the relationship between Murphy’s Reggie Hammond and Nolte’s Jack Cates is established during their first meeting, which takes place in prison. Reggie, as the film opens, has six months left on a three-year prison sentence for armed robbery. Jack wants Reggie to accept a 48-hour parole, with no promise of eliminating his remaining sentence, to help Jack catch two fugitive cop killers, Albert Ganz and Billy Bear, whom he knows.


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The barrier of suspicion that initially defines Jack and Reggie’s forced relationship, in which Jack hurls various racial insults at Reggie throughout the film, gradually gives way to a grudging rapport, especially as he proves to be very effective at leading Jack to the killers. When the pair arrive at the point in their relationship where Jack is essentially willing to trust Reggie with Jack’s life, and vice versa, Jack and Reggie transform from genre archetypes to quirky, vulnerable people whose lives are worth caring about.


48 Hrs. Made Murphy a Movie Star in One Scene

While Eddie Murphy has several memorable scenes in 48 Hrs., his most unforgettable scene, affectionately known as the redneck bar scene, is the definitive scene in the film and possibly his career. Much like what happened to Jack Nicholson with Easy Rider and Brad Pitt with Thelma & Louise, this one scene is most singularly responsible for his rise to superstardom.

In the scene, Jack and Reggie enter said bar, where Reggie, armed with Jack’s badge, poses as a cop to find information about the whereabouts of cop killer Billy Bear. In the bar, which is adorned with confederate flags, Reggie calmly approaches a clearly racist bartender about Billy Bear, who used to work there. After the bartender denies knowing Billy Bear, Reggie embarks on a tirade against the bar’s white patrons, who are completely intimidated by Reggie, who previously boasted to Jack, who watches Reggie’s performance in the bar in admiration, of Reggie’s ability to handle any situation. Reggie gets the information from the bartender.


The bar scene is especially telling in retrospect, in terms of the various ups and downs that Murphy has experienced throughout his career, in which he has, with isolated exceptions, never displayed more energy and imagination as a performer over the past 40 years than he did at the beginning of his career. 48 Hrs. is streaming on Paramount+.

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