"Another 48 Hrs.," the new follow-up to the enormously successful salt 'n' pepper buddy movie prototype, isn't so much a sequel as it is a Xerox. You're darn tootin' it's another "48 Hrs." -- down to the last bullet, the last loving buddy look.
The setup is the same, the characters are the same, even the jokes and some of the scenes are the same. The only difference is that nobody seems to be having much fun this time out -- the audience least of all.
Once again, Jack (Nick Nolte) needs help from Reggie (Eddie Murphy) and visits him in prison to renew their friendship. If you were figuring that, after eight years, Reggie would have gotten out of jail, you figured wrong. Conveniently, the con's extended term -- he was caught with the contents of the prison safe in his cell -- comes to an end just as Jack uncovers a plot to have his criminal pal killed.
Coincidence? I think not.
When Reggie and Jack are reintroduced, though, Reggie turns a cold shoulder. You see, not only does Jack have $175,000 of his money, but never once in all those years since they worked together has Jack come to visit him. A man has feelings, doesn't he?
The brain behind the murder plot, which is to be carried out by a pair of outlaw bikers -- played with the proper sadistic verve by David Anthony Marshall and Andrew Divoff -- is a shadowy crime boss known as "the Iceman." For years Jack has been working to uncover the Iceman's identity, and with so little success that his bosses don't believe he exists.
The Iceman does exist, and he works in mysterious ways, sending his orders by way of an effete young assistant named Burroughs (Brent Jennings), whose fatigued exasperation with his barbaric colleagues is about the movie's only fresh riff. Meanwhile, the main characters tease each other with abandonment, fight and jockey for dominance just like every other young couple in love. Murphy and Nolte approach the task as if reprising their roles was some sort of enforced labor -- as if they'd been sentenced to remake this picture and weren't at all happy about it.
Part of what made the partnership work in the earlier film was the contrast in the characters' styles. But no longer is Murphy the eager neophyte with the disarmingly boyish laugh, the sleek, natty greyhound to Nolte's blockish slob. Murphy seems to have bulked up since "Harlem Nights," and coming in at a weight closer to George Foreman's than his form in the first film, he looks nearly as heavy-heeled as Nolte.
Murphy does have a few nifty bits. He's funny trying to call in favors from the brothers and, throughout, his timing is sharp. But Murphy's charm is of the patented variety -- he laughs his funny laugh on cue because it's his star signature. It's a canned gesture, without spontaneity or life.
Nolte actually seems less uncomfortable running through their numbers than Murphy does. Perhaps this is because the emphasis here is less on humor and more on action. The movie is all explosions and gunplay and very little wit. Walter Hill, who also directed the earlier picture, has given this installment a gut-deep viciousness -- the picture nearly growls -- and he and his cinematographer, Matthew Leonetti, have put some gorgeously brutal images up on screen. But there are just as many unfocused, flaccidly directed scenes as there are brilliant ones.
Even when the quality of craftmanship is high, you're aware that the director is merely repeating himself, doing what he's done many, many times before. The movie isn't a disaster, and if you responded to the first one, its memory may carry you over the roughness, the excessive, ugly violence and lack of conviction here. Hill and his stars are merely going through the motions, but the motions are immensely familiar. If you've been there before, then you've been there.
Another 48 Hrs., at area theaters, is rated R.