REVIEW: The Hangover [2009]

“Couldn’t find a meter, but here’s four bucks”

The success of Old School pretty much vaulted Todd Phillips onto the A-list for comedy directors. We waited and waited for his second hit, (I didn’t forget about Road Trip which was good as a precursor to Old School), but only got the mediocre Starsky and Hutch and—what I can only imagine as disappointing—School for Scoundrels. Maybe what Phillips needed was a script from the guys that brought us Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past … wow, this is sounding worse and worse. But for some reason, putting those pieces together has crafted one of the funniest comedies I have seen in years. The Hangover lives up to the exorbitant amount of praise being tossed around everywhere with buzz running rampant online and rumors of a sequel already starting months before the film is even released. Movies pertaining to the alcohol induced shenanigans that can occur at a bachelor party two days before the wedding—in Vegas no less—always bring something funny to the table. The Hangover, however, trumps them all on sheer absurdity, craziness, and all-around hilarity.

Doug is about to marry the girl of his dreams: a woman with wealth and a family that seems grounded in reality. Jeffrey Tambor‘s patriarch isn’t hesitant to say his prized possession car is just a car, nor that what happens in Vegas should stay there. A couple days before the nuptials, however, pits Doug on a trip to Vegas for a night of fun with his two best friends and soon-to-be brother-in-law. This foursome is such a mixed bag that you believe them to all be real friends. Doug is the successful, who knows what, (we sadly learn very little about his character as he is a mere pawn for the evening to occur); Phil is the married teacher that hates his life, marriage, and children in general; and Stu is the nerdy doctor—sorry, dentist—without a backbone that you know can be wild when a few drinks have been imbibed. As for the bride-to-be’s brother Alan, he is the wild card of the bunch. Only having met Phil and Stu a few times and a bit off in the head—he is not a “rah-tard” though—you never know how he may interact with the others, nor what he may do or say about his wolfpack brothers.

The evening starts with the four going to the hotel’s roof to take a shot of Jager and toast the groom on one last night of partying. It is right after this exchange that Phillips brings us to the next morning: Stu minus a tooth, Alan without pants and in the company of a tiger, and Phil with no recollection that he was in the hospital sometime during the night. Well, I don’t want to knock Phil too much; no one remembers anything of what happened, nor can they find Doug. In fact, rather than their friend, they find a baby crying in the closet. Amidst the strewn-about debris, smoking chair, and random chicken, the boys realize that they have less than 48 hours to find the groom and get him to his wedding. The adventure that commences takes them on a journey through the many locations they visited the night before, compiling a timeline while allowing the audience to enjoy the laughs that come with the evidence of what happened and the reactions to it all from the threesome. Throw in a newly married stripper; a gay Asian with crimeworld pull, angry and naked from being trapped in the trunk of a car; a kidnapping; a stolen police car; and yes, Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins, and you can only imagine the uproarious laughter that will be emitting from your body.

Phillips has done with The Hangover what he did with Old School, getting a group of relative unknowns, (at the time), to play off each other amongst absurdity and brilliant supporting players. Doug’s Justin Bartha is best known for being Nic Cage’s sidekick in the National Treasure films and, although not a main part of the film, does work well with the three stars, definitely fitting in as the guy they are celebrating. As for Phil, Stu, and Alan—Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis respectively—you can’t have more perfect casting. Just as Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn played versions of their own comedic personas, the bachelor party participants are definitely playing within their wheelhouse. Cooper has played the good-looking prick many times, but his role here has another layer beneath the childish, testosterone-induced tendencies. He is the star of the film and the one who takes control in the search for Doug. Despite being vain and selfish, he will do anything for his friends and proves it over and over again. As for Helms, he shows that his character Andy in “The Office” might be more ad-libbed than scripted. Complete with delivery, singing, and facial expressions, his Stu is so similar to that television persona that I have to imagine he infuses his own schtick in both. The pent-up aggression, but overall puppy dog sensibilities breed many laughs.

But it is Galifianakis who surprises the most and completely shines as the off-kilter Alan. I’ll admit to mostly being turned off by his brand of humor, generally jokes that run on too long and are too dry for their own good, (although he is the best thing in Out Cold). Here, however, it all works beautifully. Even when he risks going too far, like with his wolfpack speech at the beginning, Phillips seems to have been able to cut him to the perfect length in order to maintain the joke and not destroy it. He is a little child—“don’t let the beard fool you”—and his innocence and ambivalence to what is going on around him is priceless. His emotions get the better of him, he wants nothing more than to be Cooper’s best friend or carbon copy, his delivery of absurd lines is so straight-faced you become as dumbfounded as Stu and Phil, and his props add even more to the character. His satchel, his Blackjack book, and his roofies, among other things, enhance the jokes and the plot. A moment with him and Cooper mimicking Rain Man brings the laughs as does a slo-mo sequence between he and a little boy on a field trip to a police station. When Galifianakis is onscreen, you truly have no idea what will happen next.

I know I have spoken little about the plot, but really, besides pertaining to three guys trying to remember what happened to them the night before, and where their best friend went, there isn’t much else to say. The Hangover could have easily fallen prey to the “SNL” syndrome of just being skit after skit, loosely connected into a story, yet too disjointed to really enjoy, but the cast and crew never let this happen. Bringing in actors like Heather Graham, Rachael Harris, and a scene-stealing performance from Ken Jeong only expand the story rather than derail it. The jokes come so quick and successfully that you have little time to question what is happening, and you are laughing so hard that you are probably missing dialogue anyways. And don’t even get me started on Mike Tyson’s lisp; he deserves a high-five for sure. The only thing I can say is that you will laugh, because, honestly, who wouldn’t enjoy watching a night of excess that went so overboard it’s participants can only recall what happened through the X-rated photos on their digital camera? Yes, you do get to see those gems in all their glory during the end credits.

The Hangover 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] (L-r) ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan, ED HELMS as Stu and BRADLEY COOPER as Phil in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “The Hangover,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] (L-r) Phil (BRADLEY COOPER), Alan (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), Stu (ED HELMS) and Doug (JUSTIN BARTHA) en route to Doug’s bachelor party in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “The Hangover,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[3] Stu (ED HELMS) wakes up with a hangover and finds a chicken in his hotel room in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “The Hangover,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Frank Masi

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