February 22, 2011

Remember when Eddie Murphy was funny?

Back when he was fresh, edgy and barely 20 years old, Eddie Murphy made his big-screen debut as a wisecracking convict in Walter Hill’s thoroughly badass 48 Hrs.

Also this week: Due Date, Get Low 

48 Hrs. (Paramount)
 Ah, the buddy cop film, one the most iconic and influential pop culture curios from the 1980s. The first and possibly best was Walter Hill’s (The Warriors, duh) pairing of cantankerous Nick Nolte and sassy Eddie Murphy as the crime-fighting odd couple. 

Murphy’s no cop, but rather an inmate on 48-hour parole to help detective Nolte hunt down the escaped convicts who killed his partner. (It’s still a buddy cop formula if the non-cop plays unofficial sidekick.) The duo wind up in various dicey locales, best of which is a bar full of white supremacists. When the film was released in 1982, Roger Ebert pointed to this sequence as a star-making moment for Murphy, also drawing attention to its inversed resemblance to that scene in The French Connection in which Gene Hackman crashes a bar in Harlem. 

One watershed section that Ebert neglected to mention is the introduction of Murphy’s character. After 30 humourless minutes, the first moment of comic relief happens off-screen. As Nolte treks across the prison, we hear Murphy singing “Roxanne” by The Police. It’s a memorable moment in that it marked a turning point from the harsh cop dramas of the late-’70s to the gritty-goofy charms of the ’80s. It also made Murphy a star before his character is even visible.  

48 Hrs. epitomizes the lewd action-comedies that infiltrated the decade. Racial slurs, graphic violence and flagrant chauvinism no longer make a tasteful blockbuster, but these were once run-of-the-mill tropes that added a candid dose of reality to go along with the laughs. Now they play like amusing keepsakes from a less tactful era. This sub-genre may have gotten cleaner, but at what cost? 

The film arrives on bare-bones Blu-ray one year shy of its thirtieth anniversary. We’ll probably have to wait another decade for a Murphy/Nolte commentary that I know you want to hear as much as I do. 

Also Available
The satisfaction you get from watching Todd Phillips’ follow-up to 2009’s über-overrated The Hangovermore or less depends on how you’ll react when you see Robert Downey Jr. punch a ten-year-old in the gut. It’s by far the most shocking-amazing scene in Due Date (Warner), a paint-by-numbers riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Nevertheless, this buddy road movie contains enough hit-and-miss humour and sparkly cameos (Danny McBride changing the lyrics of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” to something about meeting his boys at Chili's is another gauche highlight) to warrant at least one drunken viewing. Extras: deleted scenes, gag reel, the complete “Two and a Half Men” scene. 

Marking the feature-directing debut from the guy who shot Simon Birch (fine, he also directed an Oscar-winning short), Get Low (Sony) is an elusive character piece about a hermit who hosts his own funeral… while he’s still alive. Robert Duvall is quite amazing as the old coot, while Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black embrace their supporting roles with soft-spoken aplomb. The upshot is a handsome drama with a somewhat unremarkable epiphany that doesn’t entirely support its intriguing central character. Still, way more appealing than Simon Birch. Extras: fantastic commentary with Duvall and Spacek, director Aaron Schneider and producer Dean Zanuck, typical making-of, mini featurettes, interviews.