“The Hangover” is now officially the sleeper hit of the Summer 2009 movie season. Judging from the reaction it elicited from its trailers, that was certain to be the case as much as Eddie Murphy’s “Imagine That” was expected to be a bomb. The best way for me to describe this movie is that it is wicked funny. It’s not afraid to break any particular taboos, and its setup is ingenious. While part of me wishes that I got to see “The Hangover” before the hype machine exploded and went into overdrive, this movie proves to be one of the best times I have had so far at the movies this summer season.
The movie stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Justin Bartha as a group of guys on their way to spend a fun filled weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. The groom, Doug Billings (Justin Bartha), is only a couple of days from becoming a married man, and his close friends and soon-to-be brother in law Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) take him out of town to show him the time of his life while he is still a free man. They celebrate this moment together on the top of Caesar’s Palace where they are staying for the night with a couple shots of Jagermeister, toasting to an evening they say they will never forget.
But then morning comes, and they can’t remember a single thing that they have done. We can suspect though that it was the craziest of nights as we see a burnt chair still smoking, a sex doll floating in an overflowing bathtub, and an uninvited tiger in the bathroom (not chained to anything I might add). There’s another big problem, the groom is missing, and no one knows where he is anymore than they can remember what happened the night before. The rest of the movie involves their search for Doug, and their horrifying discoveries of what actually went down leading up to when they woke up. “The Hangover” quickly becomes one of those “oh no you didn’t” movies, and it is all the funnier for it.
Todd Phillips, who previously directed Will Ferrell to the Streakers Hall of Fame in “Old School,” directs “The Hangover” which continues his theme of exploring the lives of men who just can’t seem to grow up or act their age. Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) is a schoolteacher and a married man and father, yet he seems the most eager of the four guys to live life to the max, free of all obligations. Stu Price (Ed Helms) treats this as an opportunity to escape his girlfriend of several years (who can never stand to have him kiss her I might add) and to trick her into believing that he is actually going to wine country in Napa County. For Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis), this is just another place where he can be his usual socially maladjusted self as he is one of those man child characters who easily creeps people and not even realizing it.
Of all the guys in this movie, Doug Billings seems to be the most mature of the bunch, and who seems to have his act together in a way that the others do not. So when he suddenly disappears from the movie, you can only imagine the chaos this causes among the guys whose lives are probably not what they dreamt they would be. Then again, none of these characters would necessarily be able to solve this disappearance on their own.
By putting us in the vantage point of Phil, Stu, and Alan, “The Hangover” turns into an unpredictable comedy as we are along with these three men, discovering what shenanigans they got themselves into the same time they do. Looking back, I’m not sure how much these events would stand up to logical scrutiny, but the movie is so much fun, WHO CARES?! It’s not like we’re watching one of those “Saw” movies for crying out loud! What I love is that the movie keeps building up from one utterly bizarre situation to where just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.
I don’t want to spend all this time ruining the best parts of the movie for you, so let’s just get to the talent involved here. Bradley Cooper gets a great opportunity to shed his bully image which he perfected in such movies as “Wedding Crashers.” Well actually, he doesn’t permanently shed it here, as he seems to get people to do things they would not otherwise do under more sane circumstances. But his role here in “The Hangover” should do more than enough to break him out of his typecasting dilemma of being the snobbish bully. With Phil, he gives the movie its coolest character.
Ed Helms is a comic actor I am actually not all that familiar with. Right now, he appears in the American version of “The Office” and on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, two shows I really need to take the time to watch. As Stu Price, Ed gives us the movie its resident wimpy nerd character, a common stereotype in comedies of this sort. Indeed, any actor in this role could just get away with simply playing the character traits we come to expect from pussy-whipped bitches like these: the shy and awkward smiles, letting the glasses define them on the surface to where they are easily identifiable, wearing tidy clothes in the most inappropriate of venues, etc. The fact that Ed doesn’t just stoop to playing all those behaviors and appearances makes his performance come off really well. We have a good idea from the start of “The Hangover” of where Stu will end up by the film’s end, but Ed takes him from being a wimp to a stronger man believably, and he makes Stu ever so endearing to the audience. Plus, Ed ends up with the sexiest character in the entire movie, so he’s the luckiest of the bunch in that respect!
Hey wait a second… Let’s talk about the sexiest character in “The Hangover.” She’s an escort and exotic dancer named Jade, and she is played by the still irresistible Heather Graham (she probably has a boyfriend as I write this review). It’s now been a full ten years or so since she burned herself into our collective conscious as Rollergirl in “Boogie Nights,” and I was thrilled to see her in this movie. In the past few years, Heather’s career has taken quite a hit to where she has been cast in indie movies that were far beneath her let alone anyone else, and to where she was given the lead in a television series that lasted one episode. No one should forget what a great actress she can be, and many of her recent projects have squandered her talent in forgetful stories. I really hope that she gets the career boost she deserves with “The Hangover” because it shows that her talent has not been lost, and it never will be.
As I write this review, “The Hangover” is making a huge killing at the box office, and it should be clear to everyone by now who the movie’s true breakout star is – Zach Galifianakis. Having appeared in various films and television shows, I imagine that only so many people know who he is. But after this movie, everybody should know exactly who he is. As Alan Garner, Zach gives us someone whose sanity seems to be quite questionable, and what he says about himself hints at just how screwed up he really is. You can only guess at what kind of character he really is, and the rub there is that what you say about him could end up saying more about you. Alan Garner turns out to be one of the more unpredictable characters in recent movies to where you almost live in fear of what he might possibly do next, and that’s even if it has you laughing your ass off. The way he bonds with the guys is anything but healthy. Zach is a gifted comedian to say the least.
In addition, “The Hangover” features some great cameos throughout. I’m sure you all know by now that Mike Tyson is in the movie, and seeing him rock out to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” is a comic highlight. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that the film opened around the same of his daughter’s tragic death, but I do hope he knows that we do get a kick out of seeing him having a sense of humor about himself. I also loved Jeffrey Tambour who is always a deadpan delight in everything he does. As Sid Garner, Doug’s father-in-law to be, he personifies the knowledge of how what goes on in Vegas really needs to stay there, seriously. And Ken Jeong, very memorable as a doctor in “Knocked Up,” is
a gas as crime boss Mr. Chow.
“The Hangover” is not all politically correct to put it mildly, but in the end, this is just a movie you should have fun watching. By now, you should all know what kind of movie you will be seeing when you step inside the theater. It’s always welcome to have a raunchy comedy like this when all things around us seem so deadly serious. Even if the movie is uneven at times, the laughs keep coming, and I do have to once again say that the movie is indeed wicked funny. Some comedies this summer have been sucking royally, so it’s nice to see this one succeed where other high concept ones fail.
I have not been to Las Vegas myself yet, and that just might change this summer. Lord only knows if it will be half as crazy as what is up on the screen here. I just hope I’m good at blackjack.
***1/2 out of ****