Friday Film Focus: The Hangover

The Hangover is a funny movie all the way through. The setup is funny, every situation is funny, and most of the dialogue is funny almost line-by-line. At some point in the film, we actually begin to care about what happened to the missing groom. The fact that we almost care is funny in and of itself. Todd Phillips, the director of Old School and Road Trip, has shown himself to be an adept connoisseur of male boorishness and stupidity. I will point out, however, that the crude humor he dispenses here is frequently leavened by nuggets of inventiveness and wit.

Mr. Phillips’ The Hangover is very entertaining. This is partly in thanks to the three principal actors — Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Each incarnate familiar masculine stereotypes in ways that manage to be moderately fresh as well as soothingly familiar. The movie opens with bad news for a bride on her wedding day. Her fiance’s best buddy is standing in the Mojave Desert with a bloody lip and three others. None of whom, by the way, are her fiance. They’ve lost him — and Cooper’s character tells the bride-to-be that there’s no way the wedding is taking place….

We rewind the story two days prior to when the group is getting ready for a bachelor party road trip to Vegas. Doug, the fiance (Justin Bartha), will be joined by his two friends: The schoolteacher Phil (Cooper), and the dentist Stu (Helms). Also coming along for the ride will be the bride’s brother, Alan (Galifianakis). Alan is an overweight slob with an overgrown beard and an injunction against coming within 200 feet of a school building. They soon begin their trip to Vegas from Los Angeles, ready for a wild bachelor weekend. The next morning, it was realized that Doug is missing. Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up to find their luxury suite at Caesars Palace in shambles. This includes a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a missing tooth, and a belly button pierced for a diamond dangle. When they give their parking voucher to the doorman, he brings around a police car.

The frantic search for Doug provides a structure for the rest of the movie. Some of the crazy hijinks experienced in this journey includes a hokey wedding chapel, a violent encounter with a small but very mean Chinese mobster (Ken Jeong), a sweet hooker (Heather Graham), an impromptu interview with an emergency room doctor, and an encounter with Mike Tyson. Somehow, the group had stolen Tyson’s Tiger. However under the circumstances, he is fairly gracious about it. Additionally, there really is never an explanation for the chicken.

The Hangover has scattered laughs, but overall its more amusing than hilarious. This Vegas trip works on the three friends like applied emergency therapy. The dentist is ruled by his neurotic girlfriend. The schoolteacher thinks absolutely nothing of stealing money that was intended for a class trip. And Alan, well…Galifianakis’ performance is the kind of breakout performance that made John Belushi a star after Animal House. He is stocky, short, wants to be loved, and born clueless.

It’s a tribute to the acting of Galifianakis that we actually believe he is sincere when when he asks the clerk at the check in counter: “Is this the real Caesar’s Palace? Does Caesar live here?” This movie is written — and not assembled out of the off the shelf parts from the Apatow Surplus Store. There is a level of observation in the dialogue that’s sort of amazing. These characters aren’t generically funny, but rather specifically funny. The actors make them halfway convincing.

The Hangover peaks early, however, and runs out of steam long before the end. This is probably inevitable —  since even the craziest stuff has a way of becoming less so in the course of being explained. Still, there are some moments of dizzying, demented lunacy. Most of them are immune to being spoiled by mere verbal description. The verbal jokes…I leave for you to repeat with your friends and coworkers. The search for Doug has the friends piercing together clues from the ER, Tyson’s security tapes, and a mattress that is impaled on the uplifted arm of one of Caesars Palace’s statues.

The plot hurtles through all of them. There is a sort of perverse brilliance — or brilliant perverseness — to be found in this story of a bachelor party gone terribly wrong. You might be embarrassed by laughing at some of the silliness, but don’t be. Everyone else will be cracking up, too. This a film that deserves every letter of its R Rating. Because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?

Image Source: Digital Spy