Director : Todd Phillips
Screenplay : Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Bradley Cooper (Phil Wenneck), Ed Helms (Stu Price), Zach Galifianakis (Alan Garner), Justin Bartha (Doug Billings), Heather Graham (Jade), Sasha Barrese (Tracy Garner), Jeffrey Tambor (Sid Garner), Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow), Rachael Harris (Melissa), Mike Tyson (Himself), Mike Epps (Black Doug), Jernard Burks (Leonard), Rob Riggle (Officer Franklin), Cleo King (Officer Garden)
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so goes the tired marketing phrase that more than anything summarizes just how desperately commercialized Sin City has become. But, what happens when the thing that stays in Vegas is a groom-to-be because his buddies can’t find him the morning after their debauched night of single-man celebration, not a moment of which they can remember? That is essentially the hook of The Hangover, a cleverly vulgar new comedy that manages to take a tired conceit and make it feel inventive and consistently funny and just out of line enough to be memorable without crossing too far over it.
The movie opens with a brief glimpse of the sun-soaked disaster to come, and then goes back two days to introduce us to the heroes before sending them off to Vegas. The groom-to-be is Doug (Justin Bartha), who is such a nice guy he allows his fiancée’s (Sasha Barrese) boneheaded and reliably inappropriate brother Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to tag along for the bachelor party weekend being thrown by his two best friends, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). Phil is the handsome, confident center of attention because he’s the only guy in the group who exudes confidence, while Stu is his inverse, an inhibited dentist who is constantly being browbeaten by his horrifically controlling girlfriend of three years (Rachael Harris). Each of these guys is tailor-made to fit a particular type (the leader, the geek, the victim, and the weirdo), but ultimately they are all man-children with differing levels of insecurity, which adds a surprisingly sweet edge to some of the movie’s more outrageous situations.
Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who have taken a decidedly harder turn after their romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009), structure the story as a mystery in which our befuddled heroes, hung-over and completely clueless about the previous night’s antics, try to piece together what happened so they can locate Doug, who is scheduled to be married the next day and is nowhere to be found. This is a smart narrative ploy because it allows director Todd Phillips (Old School) to bypass all the cliché carousing and instead focus on the amusing wreckage of the aftermath. It gives each scene a spark because we start becoming as desperate as the guys on-screen to figure out how the hell that tiger wound up in their bathroom, why a baby is in the closet, and why Stu is missing a front tooth. Answers await, but they emerge in a series of bizarre, nearly surrealistic absurdities that involve everything from a naked Asian gangster (Ken Jeong) to Mike Tyson taking particular pleasure in air drumming to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.”
There is little in The Hangover that we haven’t seen before, but Phillips and his cast take the material on with such carefree gusto that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Cooper, who has played both likeably everymen (Alias) and complete jackasses (Wedding Crashers) does a nice job conveying the humor of Phil’s wannabe alpha-dog antics constantly being undercut, while Ed Helms (The Office) plays Stu’s barely suppressed hysteria at what awaits him at home while also suggesting the possibility of encroaching liberation. And, with his bushy-bear beard and frequent lack of pants, Zach Galifianakis provides the heady dash of anarchy that comes when a character is so completely clueless about everything (except, as it turns out, counting cards) that you can’t help but like him. Granted, his shtick starts to wear a bit thin, but like the movie itself, he never quite wears out his welcome and even has a few surprises left as the final credits start to roll and any lingering questions are finally put to rest.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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