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Murphy plays a criminal who temporarily gets out of jail in order to help a cop (Nick Nolte) hunt down some of his former criminal "friends". Obviously, they get on each other's nerves. Murphy wants to do things his way, and actually does a much better job than Nolte, who happens to be the one in charge. Feeling threatened, Nolte resents Murphy since he is better at catching criminals and divining important information.
There is some laughable comedy in 48 Hours, but this film is more serious and less stupid than some of Murphy's other films, such as The Nutty Professor, which was more of a Dumb and Dumber type comedy. Murphy made the same mistake with Holy Man - he attempted to play a serious role and mix it with comedy, and that just didn't work. (Which is not to say that it can't be done - Robin Williams, for example, is an expert at blending comedy and solemnity in his roles - Patch Adams or Good Will Hunting are great examples.) Perhaps Murphy should take an acting lesson or two from Williams!
On a final note, although I'm not generally that crazy about police/action type stories (I confess that I honestly have never seen NYPD Blue) , I still don't think 48 Hours is a particularly captivating police story. I've seen many action movies that are much more thrilling than 48 Hours.