"The Hangover", the new film from director Todd Phillips ("Old School") is a very funny movie. Phillips seems to delight in creating stories for his characters to run amok in, to do wild and completely off-the wall things in, and as he pushes the boundaries with his characters, he creates a lot of laughs along the way for us to enjoy. "The Hangover" is also outrageous and not the least interested in being PC, both of which add to the comedy. But it isn't a perfect film.
Doug (Justin Bartha) is about to get married and his two friends, Phil (Bradley Cooper, "He's Just Not That Into You"), a school teacher at a prep school and Stu (Ed Helms, TV's "The Office"), a dentist, want to take him out for a bachelor party. The logical choice is Las Vegas. Doug feels like he should invite his soon-to-be brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galafianakis), a strange man who resembles the Unabomber. Doug's future father-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor) gives them his vintage Mercedes Convertible on the condition only Doug drives it. He also seems to delight in the misadventures he believes the boys will soon partake in. As soon as they arrive, Phil talks them into upgrading to a villa and they head up to the roof of Caesar's Palace to take in the view and toast with a shot before the evening begins. The next morning, Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in the villa with terrible hangovers and can't find Doug. What they do find is a tiger, a chicken and a baby. They quickly determine Doug is missing and start to try to piece together the details of their evening which is a slow process given they can't remember a thing.
Directed by Phillips and co-written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the writing team behind "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "Four Christmases" YIKES!), "The Hangover" is a comedy that has actual moments of surprising comedy, unlike their last two films. You know, the type of moments that are so jarring, so out of left field and so funny you can't possibly see them coming. These are the types of moments that cause you to laugh so hard that you miss the next few jokes. "The Hangover" has moments like this, more than most comedies. And that alone makes it worth the price of admission.
But to get to this point, the story has to keep us interested and involved. The brilliant thing about "The Hangover" is that we watch the boys arrive in Vegas and enter their suite. After they have a toast on the rooftop, the story jumps to the next morning. The camera slowly, almost lovingly, pans across the trashed villa revealing much extensive, almost subversive damage, all of which was obviously caused by a very wild night. One of the ottomans has been made into a swing, suspended from the ceiling by ropes made of expensive sheets. There is a huge sculpture made of empty beer bottles. And more. As the camera finds Stu and Allan, we watch as they wake up and start to process the carnage. Later, Phil wakes up and they begin to realize Doug is nowhere to be found. Because we don't actually watch the debauchery, our mind begins to paint more elaborate and wild images, given their hijinks a new level of humor. Also, it only seems right that we don't witness what the boys can't remember. This puts us on the same playing field and allows us to be surprised with the characters.
When we get a full look at each of the guys, it quickly becomes apparent they were in over their heads during their night in Vegas. Really, how do three men create such damage in one hotel suite? It almost seems impossible. But as we begin to unravel their night together, everything quickly seems to come together.
The rest of the film is spent trying to piece together what they did, in an effort to find their friend, Doug. A tiger, a chicken, a baby, Mike Tyson, an angry, effeminate Chinese drug lord and Heather Graham all figure into the story and when each one makes an appearance, the story just goes to a new and even more wild place. Some of these plot points don’t work as well as others, but they all show the daring level of creativity the director and writers are willing to go to, the lengths they are willing to go to for a laugh.
At one point, the three guys find a baby in the villa. Alan quickly decides to take charge of the baby, which is funny because he has, at this point, already proven he is probably the worst person to care for a baby. As they sit at breakfast, trying to determine their next move, Alan becomes bored and starts to play with the baby, capturing one of the most off the wall, funniest moments I have seen in a film in some time.
Soon, they realize that Phil is wearing a hospital ID bracelet and this leads them to their first stop. There, they pick up more information leading them to the next, and so on.
As they move from one stop to the next, the level of laughs fluctuates as well. The hospital sequence is ok, saved by one shocking, funny image; the wedding chapel sequence is just ok, and so on. When the comedy works, it is brilliant. When it doesn't, they still manage a few chuckles.
Bradley Cooper, last seen in "He's Just Not That Into You", plays Phil, a teacher at a prep school who is not above conning his students out of the money he needs for the trip. He is also not above getting the group to commit to more and more, all in an effort to give Doug a great Bachelor Party. Phil is ready and willing to do all of this because he values his friendships and he wants to have a good time. Later, we learn that Phil has other levels to his character and he isn't just the hedonistic alpha male of the group.
It is a nice performance from Cooper, but he basically plays the straight man, the guiding force to the tornado of crazy that is Stu and Phil. And that's OK, because the trouble these guys get in to is very funny.
Ed Helms plays Stu, a dentist who keeps referring to himself as Dr. Price, to make himself seem very important. His fiancée, Melissa (Rachael Harris) is a controlling woman and clearly doesn't like the idea of Stu going away for a weekend with the boys. And Stu realizes this, telling her they are going to Napa instead. Stu is henpecked and he isn't even married yet, a fact Phil knows all too well so a lot of the trip is spent chastising Stu for putting up with his current condition.
Helms is usually funny and in "The Hangover" he displays the right levels of pent-up rage as he deals with all of the craziness going on around him, trying to keep it from Melissa's prying eyes.
And he wakes up missing a tooth with only a clot of blood at the gum line. No one can remember what happened to it.
Stand-up comic Zach Galafianakis plays Alan, Doug's future brother-in-law. Alan is a strange guy and it quickly becomes apparent that a lot of this strangeness is tolerated and pushed aside by his family, overlooked over the years, allowing him to remain a man-boy. Alan is the most off the wall character of the bunch, the most outlandish and often the funniest. But when you are dealing with extremes like this, the character also has moments that are just too strange, too off the wall, too over the top to work.
Heather Graham plays Jade, a stripper who met the bachelor party the night before. Graham is very pretty, but she has never shown she can carry a film, drama or comedy, and now pops up in independent films and in small supporting roles. In "The Hangover", she plays a small piece of the puzzle and is OK. Her role isn't that demanding, so it doesn't require her to show a lot of acting ability, which is probably a good thing. But I think she is included to show that these three men actually just want normal lives. Her character sort of stops the comedy dead in it's tracks and the film quickly becomes pedestrian and boring. Jade is the worst of Hollywood stereotypes, the hooker with a heart of gold. As soon as this becomes apparent, you expect some twist, some outrageous behavior to catch you off guard. When this doesn't happen, you feel let down. Why didn't they take her character to a strange, different extreme?
When "The Hangover" works, which is most of the time, it is easily one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time. When it doesn't, it sort of falls flat. The ending seems to drag because it becomes more like Heather Graham's character, predictable and pedestrian. There are a couple of other moments. But the laughter and comedy from the rest of the film helps to smooth over these slower points. And I really wish the ending weren't so clean. It needs to be outrageous, over the top, hilarious. Instead, it resembles a Sandra Bullock rom-com.
"The Hangover" is extremely funny and a very well deserved R-rated comedy. But even with the R-Rating, there are a couple of shocking moments and images that caught me off guard. The filmmakers were able to get these images into their film and still get an R-Rating? Bravo to Phillips and his producers.
"The Hangover" is one summer film you'll be happy to live with the next day. No hangover cure will be necessary.