Hangover, The (United States, 2009)

June 05, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hangover, The Poster

The Hangover begins and ends conventionally but, in between, it's not afraid to go off the rails. Unlike most so-called "comedies," this one can claim the virtue of being reasonably funny. It never tries too hard, the actors have a good sense of comedic timing, and none of the jokes are drawn out for too long. And, although The Hangover doesn't have the heart of, say, Knocked Up, it displays an affection for its characters that most comedies don't. I wouldn't go so far as to claim the men and women populating the production are three-dimensional but they escape the low orbit of simple caricature. There's a little more going on here than vulgar humor and that makes The Hangover worth the price of admission.

The film begins with a teaser: it's the day of the wedding, the groom is missing, and his friends are in the middle of nowhere. One guy puts through a call to the bride and informs her that he "lost" her husband-to-be and the ceremony, which is supposed to start in five hours, "isn't going to happen." Cue the flashback, which rewinds events 48 hours. Now we meet the principals before their fateful bachelor party trip to Las Vegas. There's Dead Man Walking Doug (Justin Bartha), his best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), and his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Alan (Zach Galifianakis). The goal is for them to drive to Vegas, spend the night gambling and drinking, then go home the next day. Things don't go according to plan.

When Phil, Stu, and Alan awaken the next morning in their $4200-a-night suite, the place is a mess. A woman slips out the door before anyone else is conscious. A chicken is on the loose and there's a tiger in the bathroom. And whose baby is in the closet? Phil is wearing a hospital arm band. Stu has lost a tooth and gained a stripper (Heather Graham) for a wife. Meanwhile, the center of the action, Doug, is missing (along with his bed's mattress). When the bewildered trio (with infant in tow), who can't remember anything about the night before, take a claim check to the hotel's valet, he brings them a cop car - not the ride they arrived in. All this happens before a tire iron-wielding naked Chinese guy and Phil Collins-singing Mike Tyson make appearances.

The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillips (Old School) with a similar flare for the profane and potentially offensive, is as cleverly constructed as a comedy of this sort can be. The bulk of the film consists of Phil, Stu, and Alan attempting to reconstruct the lost night by following clues and re-connecting with people they don't remember (but who remember them). The humor grows out of these situations, and most of it is not of the "intellectual" variety. The biggest laugh results from a scene that's in the trailer, although it is funnier in context than it is as a snippet designed to lure people into the theater. The Mike Tyson cameo is truly bizarre, and it takes on an almost macabre air after the real-life tragedy that has recently befallen him. "In the Air Tonight" is now cinematically wedded not only to Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay but to Tyson as well.

The lead actors play familiar types. Bradley Cooper, probably the most recognizable name in the cast (not counting Tyson) is the leader of the pack, although he avoids the "asshole" vibe that many such characters give off in other, similar films, thus making Phil more appealing than one might expect from such a slick individual. Stu is a nerd out of his depth who's tethered by a cellphone to his controlling girlfriend back home. Ed Helms plays him like a refugee from a Judd Apatow film. Finally, there's overweight and socially awkward Alan, whose personality Zach Galifianakis milks for humor without voiding the character of all vestiges of humanity. Alan is weird in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable, and that's where about 50% of the movie's comedy originates.

The Hangover is unapologetically R-rated, although it's not as shocking as other recent raunchy comedies that have pushed the envelope. The majority of the nudity is provided by guys because, as is generally acknowledged, the naked male form is funnier than the naked female form. There are drinking and drugs, profanity, and bodily fluids, but nothing we haven't been exposed to before. The purpose of The Hangover isn't to boldly go where no comedy has gone before (although there is a subtle but unmistakable nod to Star Trek in the line "I'm a doctor, not a tour guide"), but simply to make audiences laugh. With so many comedies becoming increasingly less funny as a result of the rise of lazy, uninspired writing, that's a worthy goal. For a viewer in the mood for something rude, crude, and lewd, it would be difficult to find a more satisfying food.

Hangover, The (United States, 2009)

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Barrese
Screenplay: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
Music: Christophe Beck
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2009-06-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1