Eddie Murphy may have been a novice movie actor when he made "48 HRS." eight years ago, but he had a crackerjack presence that cut like an acetylene torch through the film's engineered tumult. In the sequel, "Another 48 HRS.," Murphy still has his crack timing and a comic assuredness that almost passes for dramatic authority.
In the intervening eight years, Murphy has become a great big movie star, and his career, except in a commercial sense, hasn't improved on his work in that first film. He's become a commodity, and, despite his professionalism in "Another 48 HRS." (citywide), there's a take-it-or-leave-it quality to his edgy nonchalance. He knows he doesn't really need this movie--certainly not the way he did when he was just starting out in the business.
Nick Nolte needs this film even less than Murphy. Since "48 HRS.," he's become a great actor. The buddy-buddy shoving matches and bleary mock-racist face-offs in this film diminish his presence; even more so than in the first film, they reduce Nolte's power to a series of hulky poses. And since Murphy is no more generous with Nolte now than he was eight years ago--he still acts as if there's no one else on screen remotely as important as himself--Nolte seems once again at a loss. In his tirades with Murphy, he might as well be burbling to himself.
The plot to this sequel is a crude rehashing of the high points of the first film. Jack (Nolte) has been suspended from the San Francisco police force for his overenthusiastic pursuit of an elusive Bay Area drug lord, the Iceman. Unless he can collar his prey in 48 hours, he'll go to prison.
When Jack discovers that the Iceman has put out a contract on Reggie (Murphy), who is about to be released from prison after seven years, he tries to enlist his old nemesis-ally into helping him out. Reggie, you see, is the Iceman's only eyewitness. (Question: How come Jack never asks Reggie to provide a visual description of the Iceman?) Predictably, it takes about half of the movie for Reggie to warm to the idea of reteaming with Jack. The partnership is inevitable, though. There wouldn't be a movie otherwise.
There isn't one anyway. Walter Hill, who also directed the first film, surely recognizes the hollowness of what he's doing here. He also hasn't had a hit since "48 HRS.," which no doubt explains why he's once again tilling these charred fields. He tries to ram through the muddled exposition as quickly as possible; essentially, the film is wall-to-wall mayhem, with more shots of hurled bodies shattering windows than I've ever seen in a movie. (The breakaway-glass concession for this film should have received top billing.) The scenes that are halfway effective, like the one in which Reggie breaks up a barroom melee, or a shoot-out in Chinatown, get most of their oomph from their association with similar scenes in "48 HRS.", where they were executed a lot better, if no less cynically.
Occasionally, there are grace notes. Murphy is loose and funny in a sequence where he's trying to cadge friends for money from a pay phone, and he has a rascally winsomeness that's almost Chaplinesque when he's being bullied by the behemoth inmate (Bernie Casey) to whom he's in hock. There's an explosive comic moment when the psycho bikers in pursuit of Jack and Reggie burst through the screen of a porno movie house; it's as if they were being expelled, "Alien"-style, from the chest of the naked actress on screen.
But these graces notes are all but lost in the din. "Another 48 HRS." (rated R) is a demonstration of how far-gone an action film can get when it's only propulsion is mayhem. Scene after scene exists only to up the blood flow; in the movie's climactic shoot-out, the filmmakers actually attempt to extract a laugh from a point-blank direct hit to one of the lead characters. I guess it's OK to laugh--after all, it's not a mortal wound.