The Hangover

June 22, 2009


The Hangover

Review By: Jon Allen
JonAllen@TheCinemaSource.com

Todd Phillips has made a career of documenting his characters, as seen in the beginning of his career: Hated, a glimpse into the mind and intensity of the controversial and self-mutilating G.G. Allin, a hardcore punk icon and performance artist who provided Phillips an entry into the canon of post-grad documentary films. He followed his debut with another documentary, about the porn industry, Screw: Al Goldstein's Kingdom of Porn. Even in his fictional work, his characters are hampered by desire and a kind of teenage ambition that is blind to the world and doesn't care about the consequences of messing up and having to start over, even if it sacrifices some of their dignity and humanity for the sake of their hilarious conquest.

When his first non-documentary entry took shape in the form of Road Trip, the ultimate "college rules" comedy in 2000, its success could have been attributed to the fact that its arrival paralleled so many teen-oriented comedies that hit theaters before and after the millennium. But while the film follows of trend of sexual depravity and takes pleasure in the ever expanding number of suburban offspring trapped in perpetual and puerile innocence — taking shelter in all parts of America and trying to figure out exactly what's going on — it also demonstrated that Phillips could accentuate life-long adolescence and capture great comic timing from his actors. Road Trip formally introduced Phillips as a junk-culture loving fanatic to a larger viewing public.

Old School arrived two years later and cemented his reputation — and Will Ferrell's — as a revealing look at grown men stuck in suburban homogeny, able to transmute from willing husband and father to sex and alcohol consumed man-children. It's a style that probably should develop but also smartly remains true to Phillips's uncanny ability to exploit something from his characters that plays into his brand of screwball comedy so effectively, or at least in tune with the nature of his plot devices.

With The Hangover, everyone grows up a little bit, or at least at the end, and only when it matters most. Perfectly in tune with the title, our cast has to recover from a night they'll never forget and prepare for one of the more sobering events they could stumble into: a wedding that brings together a waiting-in-vain bride and a bewildered and ego-damaged groom.

Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) are best friends attending the wedding of their other best friend Doug (Justin Bartha). All that stands between them and that relatively important and life-altering event are two days and a free-spirited trip to Las Vegas. Doug invites his future brother-in-law (a sorely underused Zach Galifiankis), and the four head over the border and into a fantasy land that only cinema's interpretation of Vegas could merit. When they get there, they are reminded why their lives almost depended on this weekend away, because the city of vice and seeming corruption is a fantasy that seems so distant but ultimately real; it feels cheap but is almost always expensive.

Upon promising each other that they'll never forget this weekend, the four of them descend through a night we don't see but can only imagine, as we cut to the four lying on their hotel floor covered and surrounded by clothes, babies, tigers, people just leaving, and a degradation usually reserved for guys much younger than they are. What the audience is left with then is a comedy that tries to reconcile its eagerness as a more mature variation on the Old School theme and succumb to the depravity and humiliating circumstance that provides the foundation for the story and its characters' behaviorisms.

The Hangover could have been a great movie, but the element of discovery that plays so heavily into its development and gives its cast a comic footing is so straightforward. Not as inspired or cunning as it could be, but still an entertaining and diversionary comedy all its own, it plays to an audience that feels the presence of suggestion, a device that once employed establishes the film as a collection of scenes. In The Hangover, whatever got our four anti-heroes in trouble is uniquely staged, and mostly funny, but in the end rather formulaic. It doesn't help too that Galifianakis — a comedian capable of saying something so left-field it's actually intelligent, a comic so skilled with timing and the presence of metaphor — is instead mostly a bit-player, and that's somewhat disappointing, because he is worthy of a movie made just for him.

Again, those moments of transcendent and — sometimes — improvised comic grace are worth it and reveal a story and cast worth rooting for. Troublesome though, and even with their affability and collective presence, there is a lack of real on-screen chemistry that permeates the foursome. For a bunch that are supposedly fully aware of their mutual love and respect, it feels almost as if they've just met each other, and the direction doesn't quite capture the essence of friendship that feeds and grows — superficially, of course — off the power of hilarious consequences that Phillips drove home in his Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell vehicle. Mostly funny, occasionally witty and left-field, and with a few surprises strung along the way, The Hangover is not consistent, and ends in the most agreeable fashion, but it does offer further proof that Phillips's movies can be crass, fun, and somehow always so universal.

Film Grade: B-

Synopsis:

Two days before his wedding, Doug and his three friends drive to Las Vegas for a blow-out bachelor party they’ll never forget. But, in fact, when the three groomsmen wake up the next morning, they can’t remember a thing. For some reason, they find a tiger in the bathroom and a six-month-old baby in the closet of their suite at Caesars Palace. The one thing they can’t find is Doug. With no clue as to what transpired and little time to spare, the trio must retrace their hazy steps and all their bad decisions in order to figure out where things went wrong and hopefully get Doug back to L.A. in time to walk down the aisle.

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