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March 21, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Hangover Theater | March 21, 2008 |

I must admit, Hangover Theater is a wonderful concept. Although for me these days, it’s rarely necessary… not that I don’t drink (Good Lord is that untrue), but rather I’ve found that as I stumble towards my mid-30’s, I no longer really get hungover. However, I can certainly appreciate the need for day-after solutions to one’s alcohol-induced sufferings. When I was younger and more irresponsible, my Saturday morning recipe consisted of the biggest Dunkin Donuts coffee that could be made (though a giant Coca Cola would do in a pinch), something involving bacon, eggs and grease, and movies. The classics for my roommates and I were Fletch, Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China and South Park. That combination was sweet, sweet candy.

Unfortunately, none of those old favorites are available this weekend. However, as I scanned through the TV listings, I came to a halt at 48 Hours. I thought to myself, “Is this worthy of Hangover Theater? Is it funny enough? Does it give enjoyment without too much thinking (a must for the booze-addled hungover halfwit like myself)?” I decided that it had been too long since I’d seen it, and thus your newest review is born. So gather ‘round, my sauced and suffering souls, and let me tell you a tale.

It dawned on me as I was getting started that there is an important piece of information that many of you younger Pajibans may not be aware of. It saddens me to think this might be the case, and thus this review is given another purpose: to perhaps educate y’all. Because you see, here’s the thing: Eddie Murphy used to be funny. I don’t mean he could elicit the occasional chuckle or guffaw. I mean he used to be a fucking comedic genius. Before the studios began dumping out horrendous piles of Santorum such as Norbit or Daddy Day Care, Eddie Murphy was a profane comedic darling. He was a manic, foul-mouthed, in-your-face dervish who could be incredibly offensive or hysterically funny in the same breath. He got his start on “Saturday Night Live” in back in the show’s golden age, and in 1982, he tried his hand at acting on the big screen. 48 Hours was his first cinematic effort, and after watching it again, I can say without reservation that it’s still damn funny.

The plot of 48 Hours is painfully simple — part of what makes it perfect for the booze-soaked brain. A crazed escaped convict named Ganz (James Remar - Dexter’s Harry Morgan) and his buddy Billy Bear (Sonny Landham - you probably know him as Billy in Predator) has killed two cops. Nick Nolte is Jack Cates, the foul-mouthed, obnoxious, rulebook-out-the-window detective who wants to catch them, since they used his gun for one of the killings. Ganz’s ex-partner is a clever, wisecracking convict named Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy). In a plot contrivance that you simply need to ignore in order to enjoy the movie, Cates arranges to have Reggie released under his supervision for 48 hours (a ha!) to help him capture Ganz and Billy Bear. That’s basically it. Oh, sure, there’s some other stuff about Cates’ girlfriend (Annette O’Toole, a.k.a. Clark’s mom on “Smallville”) and whatnot, but it’s really completely unimportant. In fact, the plot overall is about as unsophisticated as you’re likely to see. It’s so rife with clich├ęs it almost hurts to think about it. The tough-as-nails, hard-boiled white guy, the fast-talking black guy, the heartless killers; there’s nothing in this plot you haven’t seen before. But the difference is - here it’s done well.

Yet in a way, that straightforwardness works in the film’s favor, especially if you view it in a historical context. 48 Hours was supposed to be Murphy’s coming out party, and bogging the film down with too much plot may not have worked for a comedian who’d never really acted before (other than “SNL” skits). Instead, the focus is more on the chemistry between Murphy and Nolte, and I must say, the two are amazing together. Directed with Spartan simplicity by Walter Hill (The Warriors, Last Man Standing), 48 Hours takes place in a grim, drab vision of San Francisco. There’s very little flair to the direction, instead letting the characters and their relationship grab your attention. And the two them are a fantastic, of crude, pairing. From the get go, the two are constantly adversarial. Nolte is at his gruff, gravelly finest; a slovenly mess of a man who seems to hate people yet protects and serves nonetheless. Murphy is the wiseass con man, constantly trying to persuade Nolte to help him either get laid or find the cache of stolen money that Ganz double-crossed him for. They argue furiously pretty much throughout the movie, and the exchanges between the two of them are extremely fun to watch.

The humor in 48 Hours is interesting. It’s not as hilariously funny as Beverly Hills Cop, but it still works. It is also, however, a shining example of a movie that could never be made in today’s PC era of filmmaking. Nolte’s jabs at Murphy are sometimes virulently racist (“You’re just a spearchucker with a number stenciled on the back of his prison fatigues. And I’m through fuckin’ around. You tell me the truth or you’re gonna get the living shit beat outta you”), but Murphy never misses a beat in his reaction and response. In fact, considering it was his first role, Murphy is quite impressive. His humor is profanity-laden and dirty-minded (after his eventual sexual rendezvous, he lazily drawls, “I’m not goin’ in for all that macho shit, Jack. I was great. I should have my dick bronzed.”), but without being truly obscene. The repartee between them is racially charged and often harsh, but not stupid. At one point, Nolte drags Murphy into an all-white redneck bar, with Confederate flags strewn about. It’s the kind of scene where, if this were a modern comedy, I would immediately cringe in fear of the lame, stereotypical horseshit that pervades modern comedies. But under Hill’s workmanlike direction and fully utilizing Murphy at his at his best - loud, manic but not too over the top, and Nolte’s boorish appeal, the scene takes on a life of its own. When Murphy draws attention to himself, it doesn’t descend into the type of painful, banal, pathetically tripe attempts at humor that we see invading the multiplex these days. Instead the dialogue is loud, brash, and you find yourself a little floored that they took it in that direction. When Murphy impersonates a cop and is rousting one of the redneck bar patrons, he proclaims, “You know what I am? I’m your worst fuckin’ nightmare, man. I’m a nigger with a badge, which means I got permission to kick your fuckin’ ass whenever I feel like it.” It’s the kind of racial invective-laden language that feels real, instead of that “white guys drive like this, but black guys drive like this” garbage.

The other bit of historical importance is that 48 Hours is often credited with being the first “buddy cop” picture (despite the fact that only one of them is a cop). I’m sure there are older examples, but this was one of the first popularized ones, leading to films such as Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop and of course the classic, Tango and Cash (another tasty, ridiculous bit of hangover goodness if there ever was one). It set the standard for the straight man/joker theme, although it’s sometimes hard to figure out which is which in 48 Hours.

Regardless, 48 Hours is prime Hangover Theater material. It successfully straddles the necessary lines — funny without gross-out humor, clever yet without pretense, and action-packed but not in a headache-inducing, Bay-esque way. For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend tuning into HBO2 at 2:30 PM on Saturday. You’ll get to see a comedic actor at the beginning of his career, showing so much promise that it creates a wistful frustration when I lay eyes on him now. You’ll get to see an angry, growling Nolte drink on the job and throw a trashcan. You’ll get to see Walter Hill’s sparse direction. But most importantly, you’ll get to spend a couple of hours not thinking about the questionable decisions you made the night before.

TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him wasting his time at Uncooked Meat.

Hangover Theater

Have a Coke and a Smile and Shut the Fuck Up

48 Hours / TK

Hangover Theater | March 21, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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