Before he was a Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy’s silver screen debut role as loquacious prison inmate Reggie Hammond was given a time of 48 Hours in the custody of Nick Nolte’s Detective Jack Cates. The role propelled him to comic legend status. If this was his watershed role, then the redneck bar interrogation scene should be framed as the flashpoint when Hollywood's A-List bouncer pulled Murphy out of line, informed him of his VIP status and pulled back the velvet rope.
When Cates accepts a wager with Hammonds allowing the inmate to test his theory that the only thing giving Cates superiority is a gun and a badge, they check his hypothesis in a honky-tonk bar.
Hammond’s sheer bluntness as he stops, frisks and verbally strips down an entire bar full of flannel and cowboy bootwearing drunkards was more than just a side-splitting moment. They should have locked Hammond back up for stealing the show because following this scene, 48 Hrs. was all about Eddie.
I wasn’t born until closing time in the ‘80s, however, I can imagine how the image of Hammond using the power and influence of a badge to turn the tables in a bigoted white establishment had a certain revenge gratification to it.
You see it all too often in films. Some cop with bravado pulls out the shield, commences the ruffling of collars in an attempt to get information from individuals of the darker persuasion and nobody touches him. Hammond’s flipped the roles by parodying a classic film trope with a steely glare and a comedic intensity.
Not many comics could walk the highwire between intimidating and slapstick. Kevin Hart’s star is on the rise, but he doesn’t have that type of screen authority and I’m not sure Chris Rock has the range to captivate a scene with that much grit.
Donning a black gallon hat he plucked off the head of the bartender, Murphy turns to the attentive bar patrons, who are staring in stunned silence, and seemingly breaks the fourth wall proclaiming, “There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Reggie Hammond.”
Who shot the sheriff? That’s what I ponder when peering around the Hollywood landscape and notice that Eddie Murphy’s footprints have been swept away to the sands of time.
Before 48 Hrs., Eddie was renowned for his standup stage prowess, but if he’d had a mic in his hand, he should have dropped it, walked off set before the director yelled cut, walked into his trailer and lit a victory cigar.