Thursday, June 11, 2009

Movie Review: The Hangover

Yeah, yeah. I know...this review is late. Busy week at the office. Besides, I know that everyone who wanted to see this movie has probably already done so, based on the bank it's made so far. But I'll contribute my thoughts.

The key moment, I think, in the raucous new Vegas comedy "The Hangover" involves comedian Zach Galifianakis using a baby's hands to make a crude gesture. It's an infanitile, immature gesture. Totally wrong. And the other two characters in the scene--played by Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms--know so and say so.

But as they do, they also hide a laugh. Yeah, this is dumb, immature stuff...but it's also pretty funny.

That could probably sum up the feeling of watching "The Hangover," an uproarious mystery from director Todd Phillips ("Old School"): the things these three characters do are stupid, reckless and childish. And yet I dare anyone in the theater to keep a straight face.

I'm sure everyone knows the story by now. Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis take their friend to Vegas two nights before his wedding for a bachelor party he'll never forget. After a round of drinks, we flash forward to the next morning, with the three men passed out in a recked hotel room. The chair is smoking. One man (Helms) is missing a tooth. There's a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom and a chicken pecking around.

And the groom is missing.

What follows is a series of misadventures through Vegas that involves a quickie wedding to an escort, a naked asian man in the trunk of a car and Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins. To say anymore is to spoil the absolutely absurd twists and turns the film takes; this is a film in which each scene brings a new, bizarre discovery that is usually almost as funny and bizarre as the characters themselves.

It's tempting to describe "The Hangover" as a men-behaving-badly comedy. But I don't think that's a fair comparison. Had the film simply been a recount of the bachelor party and all the shenanigans, I don't think it would have been as funny...we'd just be watching guys doing things that the filmmaker thought was funny. But deep inside we'd be be seeing, "this is just stupid."

The clever twist of making this a "morning after" comedy is that it acknowledges that these three men acted very stupid and immature. They're dealing with the consequences of a drunken night and seeing just how idiotic liquor made them. What they did that night is probably not that funny--watching them discover the mess they made and trying to clean it up...that's pretty priceless. It goes back to that scene with Galifianakis and the baby--they did some stupid things...but you're going to laugh at it anyway.

The casting here is one of the best in recent comedies. Cooper, Helms and Galifianikis play to their strengths. Cooper, who is just beginning to shine as Hollywood's most likeable cad, is the closest the film has to a straight guy. He's the guy who spearheads the night, gets everyone to loosen up and have some fun, charms the ladies...and, oh yeah, doesn't really think much about taking money from his students under the guise of a field trip to field the adventure. Helms is basically playing the same character he plays on "The Office" and "The Daily Show"--the seemingly mature, emasculated, straight-laced doctor (excuse me, dentist)--who will of course undergo a change into a wild man.

And then there's Galifianiakis who was, prior to this, only one of those comedians I had been told "you have to see" but had never gotten around to watching. This is his Frank the Tank role--the role that, like it did for Will Ferrell in "Old School," will hopefully launch him into bigger things. I don't even know how to describe his work here--he's quiet, shy, socially awkward, sometimes a bit sweet...and yet, possibly insane. His character is one moment telling his friend he can't be within 200 feet of a school (or a Chuck E. Cheese) and the next minute standing up in the car screaming "Road Trip." Galifianikis is just unhinged in this movie, an unpredictable character who can turn even throwaway dialogue or an awkward shamble into the background into something gut-busting. His character is the loyal type who will sing about his best friends. He will also, in the middle of a chase, double check that Halley's comit is, in fact, not that evening. Because he wouldn't want to miss it.

Phillips's casts are always his strong points. I've been a fan of his "Road Trip," "Old School" and "Starsky and Hutch" because of his skill with casting the right actors for the roles. Here he not only gets the right individual actors but is able to get those who have a strong comedic chemistry together, who can pull off the feeling that they are old friends and make their reactions to everything seem perfectly natural (I love the fact that much of their reactions are not shock but rather amusement). This is also the most visually competent and cohesive film Phillips has made...I don't know if it's the use of a tighter plot or simply the allure of the visuals of Vegas but this film actually looks pretty slick.

It's not a perfect film. Heather Graham's role is weakly written and the comedic potential of Helm's marriage to a stripper/escort (she has his grandma's Holocaust ring) is never really explored. And the Mike Tyson scenes are amusing but never really pack the punch (pun intended) that I think they were going for--although that may also be because those particular moments were heavily used in the marketing and the surprise was a bit muted.

Still, whatever flaws "The Hangover" has are made up for by the sheer volume of big laughs in the movie. This isn't a Judd Apatow film where depth and emotion are snuck in under the laughs...this is just an unapologetically funny movie where a good majority of the jokes not only stick but are funnier than you'd think.

There's not much else to say, except that they never do answer the question about the chicken (probably for the already-greenlit sequel).

And...the MPAA was NOT paying attention to those end credits.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.