Friday, June 19, 2009

The Hangover (***)

Directed by Todd Phillips


Better late then never...

It has seemed that the dynamo mystique of Las Vegas has grown over the last few years. Many commercials barrage our screen with that all-too-familiar phrase: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". All that said, there are numerous films which go on to show the exact opposite, and much like real life, the debauchery of Vegas can sometimes find its way home with you. The Hangover takes a hilarious, if not refreshing look at this theory, and does it with much fervor.

When Doug (Justin Bartha) decides to have a bachelor party two days before his wedding, the only idea that he can think of is spending a night in Las Vegas with his two best friends. First, there is Phil (Bradley Cooper), a husband and schoolteacher, who steals money from his young students' field trip donations to fund his partying. Then, there is Stu (Ed Helms), a reserved dentist who is caught in a volatile relationship with a possessive and overbearing woman.

Unfortunately, Doug is nearly forced to bring along his troubled brother-in-law Alan (Zack Galifianakis), who kisses dogs and can't be within two-hundred feet of an elementary school. The three travel in Doug's father-in-law's luxury car from Burbank to Sin City, and when they arrive, they book themselves into a villa within Caesar's Palace. Before their night of terror, they get up on the roof, toast to each other, and toast to having a night nobody will forget. Instead, they have a night that no one will remember.

The next morning: they're villa is demolished, a chicken and a tiger are carousing through the room, there's a baby in the closet and Doug is nowhere to be found. The three men think rationally at first, but as time goes by, and their problems are compounded by revelations of the night they don't remember, all hell breaks loose. Phil at one point went to the hospital with broken ribs. Allan stole an Asian gangster's man purse. Also, Stu got married to a sweet hooker and stripper named Jade (Heather Graham--where has she been lately?).

I'm not sure if The Hangover is as clever as some people seem to claim, but it certainly isn't nearly as bad as some reviewers stated on its original release. The film has grown over the last three weeks into a mega-hit based on word-of-mouth, not because there are any movie stars in it (the closest thing to it is Cooper, who has never headlined a film, if I remember correctly). It has risen because it is funny. Director Todd Phillips has very much proven himself to be a master of rowdy humor (Old School, Road Trip), but this is certainly his most polished film.

Is the plot a bit hackneyed? Sure. The film is essentially Bachelor Party: The Next Day, but the reason the film succeeds is because it doesn't really have much interest in being safe. Whether it be a taser to the face, or a geriatric man's ass, there is no image which seems to push the envelope too far. Yet, the dialogue still has freshness, and they do not use the shock value as a crutch. Spot performances from the likes of Mike Epps, Ken Jeong, and (of all people) Mike Tyson weave fluidly throughout the film without disrupting its forward motion.

Phillips capitalizes strongly off of his cast. Cooper, seemingly always cast as a skirt-chasing looker, plays the part to the max. Helms, a veteran of The Office, is the brain of the group, but he perhaps has the most wit of anybody on the film. As for Galifianakis, this may very-well be his starmaking role. He is round and bearded in all the right places, and although his physical appearance lends itself to poking and prodding from everyone, he is still able to get off a couple of his own good lines. Galifianakis plays the part with such playful childishness, that it doesn't seem contrived when he asks the receptionist at the Palace: "Did Caeser actually live here?"

It's difficult not to find yourself enjoying The Hangover, even if it does promote irresponsibility as much as it demeans it. Does the plot unfold rather conveniently? Sure, but so do all movies like this, and most of those movies aren't nearly as funny.

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