The Good: Funny, Decent acting, Good pacing
The Bad: A bit predictable
The Basics: Funny from almost the first moments, The Hangover has three men lost in Las Vegas retracing the events of a night none remember.
Every now and then, I am pleasantly surprised at the movies. It is not often and it is rarely with a comedy I have seen previews for that have not wowed me. It does happen from time to time, though, as it did the year prior to The Hangover with the movie Sex Drive which was surprisingly charming. This summer, as blockbuster season has begun to hit its stride, I'm surprised to find myself enthusiastically recommending The Hangover as the first comedy put out by Legendary Pictures that is worth spending time on.
The Hangover is a pretty traditional road trip movie and because of the way it is structured, the biggest problem with the movie is that those who enter it with an engaged brain will realize several things immediately or well before the action of the movie reveals it. As my partner said as I spoiled one event over half an hour before the characters realized it, sometimes being smart actually ruins simple entertainment. The thing is, The Hangover is not entirely ruined by coming in with one's brain on. Instead, the humor is so constant and so surprising that more often than not, the film works and is funny, engaging and worth one's time and attention. Comedies have a tough time in the dramatic, big special-effects summers, but The Hangover deserved its weekend at #1 (and it did not lose to Land Of The Lost at the very least). But adults looking for humor geared at adults . . . The Hangover is the comedy of the summer, conveniently released early!
Two days before Phil has to call his best friend's fiance to tell her he and his friends have lost Doug, the groom-to-be, Phil, Alan (Doug's to-be brother-in-law), Stu and Doug drive off to Las Vegas for Doug's bachelor party. Alan, the weird one of the group isolates Phil and Stu - who is plagued by a very controlling girlfriend - and finds himself awkward around Doug. After checking in to a villa at Caesar's Palace, the quartet goes up to the roof to toast Doug's impending nuptials.
The next morning, Stu awakens on the floor of the villa, missing a tooth. He is surrounded by mayhem: a smoking chair, a hot tub filled with bubble bath and an inflatable sex doll, a chicken and a tiger in the bathroom. Alan discovers the tiger and after tripping over Phil, the three quickly realize that Doug is missing. The clues the three remaining men have are an ATM receipt for the Bellagio, a parking receipt from the morning, and a baby they find in the closet. Attempting to track down further clues, they soon discover they have been driving a stolen police car, visited the Best Little Chapel where Stu married a stripper, and finding Doug's car yields more trouble than they ever would guess when a naked Chinese man leaps out of the trunk!
The Hangover is a comedy that relies more on verbal humor than physical comedy and visual gags. In fact, all of the funniest parts my partner and I found ourselves citing to one another were lines, not reminiscences of visual jokes. And The Hangover is full of memorable lines ("I keep forgetting about the tiger in the bathroom. . ."). The characters are fun and perhaps the biggest surprise of The Hangover is that the movie is not about dumb guys who are trying to avoid responsibility for their actions while drunk. Instead, The Hangover is a surprisingly engaging road trip/comedic investigation of a chunk of missing time where the three protagonists struggle to learn exactly what they have been up to and where Doug is.
So, to get it out of the way, what's wrong with the film. The Hangover suffers from its own sense of narration, it is somewhat repetitive with some jokes, and the soundtrack is intrusive at points. The biggest problem is the narration. The movie opens with Phil making a call to Tracy, Doug's fiance. Phil has slashes on his neck, three people are visible in the background and Phil is confessing to Tracy that they have lost Doug. Thus, the viewer spends much of the movie waiting for Phil to get cut (it's no stretch to figure out how his neck gets scratched, whatwith the tiger in the bathroom) and that whatever action leads the men to the middle of the desert, the fourth man with them is not Doug. That last part makes the final act far less interesting than writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and director Todd Phillips intended. Phillips seems to think showing men repeatedly in briefs will continue to garner laughs and that the more loud rap music is played to bridge between scenes the more the audience will get in the mood of the movie. That said, Phillips makes one of the final gags of the movie work because he has allowed the soundtrack to be intrusive before that.
Given all that, The Hangover is only mildly offensive, especially for an R-rated comedy. Most of the "R" comes from swearing, male nudity, and a bit of violence. "Gay" is used as a pejorative twice, but otherwise the movie is remarkably friendly toward women, homosexuals and people of other ethnicities. There is a strange purity to the characters as they search for Doug and in essence the movie is about men who are convinced they did something dumb . . . they just don't know what.
The movie manages to balance Phil, Stu and Alan so all three characters have a real chance to shine. Phil is the most together adult of the bunch, a married man and the only real issue with his character is that when the group meets up with the police, it makes little sense he would not call his wife. Phil is a teacher and he is plausibly in control as he leads the other two on the search for Doug. But he, like the others, is delightfully flawed and when the humor and violence begin to mix, Phil avoids much of the action.
Alan and Stu, however, bear the brunt of much of that type of humor as Stu is whipped and Alan is just plain odd. Implied to have a record for sex-based crimes, Alan is socially awkward and much of the humor with him comes out in the form of odd non-sequitors. He is wonderfully played by Zach Galifianakis, who is ridiculed through the movie as being a small, fat Jesus and he plays the role with a sense of physical discomfort that is hilarious to watch. Galifianakis is brilliant with his comic timing and he deadpans most of his lines with a blank expression that he makes work. He plays off Ed Helms (Stu) perfectly.
Bradley Cooper is assigned the task of selling most of the preposterous plot as Phil. Cooper, who was used as a pretty miserable appendage in He's Just Not That Into You, is used much better in The Hangover. Usually cast as "the good guy," Cooper has the chance to truly branch out in this role as he plays an irresponsible good guy who is on-edge most of the movie. Cooper infuses a subtle tension into his voice in most scenes when he is forced to negotiate with the authorities and gangsters who want to do violence to him and his friends. He sells the part, both for a character who does not remember the prior night and one who is together-enough to lead the others.
But more than anything else, The Hangover is funny and it is a comedy intended for adults. And it works.
For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Hot Tub Time Machine
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.