A film review by Craig J. Koban
2009, R, 100 mins.
2009, R, 100 mins.
Phil: Bradley Cooper / Stu: Ed Helms / Alan: Zach
Galifianakis / Doug: Justin Bartha / Jade: Heather Graham
/ Sid: Jeffrey Tambor / Mr. Chow: Ken Jeong / Mike Tyson: Himself
/ Black Doug: Mike Epps
Bachelor parties have become the stuff of age-old movie clichés. THE HANGOVER, on many levels, does not reinvent the genre's wheel.
see: we have the typical group of twenty-something fratboy wannabes.
have the hedonistic city of lights known as Las Vegas as an alluring
backdrop for the heroes' inebriated misadventures.
Check. We have
strippers with a heart of gold. Check.
We have animals, in some form or another.
have the requisite mass binges of drugs and alcohol consumption.
Check. We have
post-party memory loss do to intense intoxication.
Check. We have
a large level of social decorum and responsibility completely
abandoned in place of all out debauchery. Hmmm...make that one a double
Without any hesitation, THE HANGOVER hardly deserves unquestioning accolades (as it has been ubiquitously receiving as of late) as a groundbreaking R-rated comedy. Far from it. The premise for the film itself is almost inordinately familiar: a group of four friends hope to travel to Vegas in order to have a kick ass bachelor party without limits or rules, only to wake up the next morning and…not remember a damn thing that transpired the previous night. One aspect is decidedly different: the groom in question is missing, whose wedding is to occur within a few short hours and hundreds of miles away. If I was a studio executive and this plot was pitched to me, then I would have grown wearisome and inevitably told the writer that this sounds like a party film on autopilot.
In short: been there, done that.
However, THE HANGOVER is a bit more sly and intriguing in terms of its execution. Instead of taking the road most traveled approach with this type of scatological material (which would be to show all of the events of the actual party in gratuitous and shamelessly lewd details), the film opts to flash forward past the events of the party altogether. Remember, this film is called THE HANGOVER, not THE PARTY. This may initially sound like a disappointing focus for a screen comedy like this, but THE HANGOVER is able to forge some serious hilarity out of the mystery behind the party itself. It understands that the “party” has been done to literal death in mainstream films, so by essentially leaving it out altogether it allows for the audience buy in that much more.
pleasure of the film is that of discovery: the more we learn about the infamous night that was for these
wannabe-swingers – not to mention the more clues we uncover regarding
the missing grooms’ whereabouts – the more involved we become.
Yes, this film is unapologetically R-rated (it's filthy
minded, unrelentingly potty-mouthed, and shows a predictable disdain for
taste on many occasions), but THE HANGOVER triumphantly separates itself
from the pack because it does not exist primarily as a mindless, bawdy,
f-bomb laden, gross-out-gag-filled spectacle (which…it is to a
degree). This comedy’s
strengths are how it creates genuine interest in its story and the silly
momentum it generates.
plot - provided by John Lucas
and Scott Moore, who proudly stand apart here from their forgettable script for
the recent GHOSTS OF
GIRLFRIENDS PAST – is told in a fractured and somewhat broken
timeline. The opening
sequence actually occurs about two-thirds into the film and then it
flashes back to the beginning. In
this introduction we see a middle school teacher named Phil (Bradley
Cooper) who is bruised, bloodied, and looks like hell.
He is on his cell phone telling a bride-to-be that her fiancé and
his friend, Doug (Justin Bartha) has been…well…misplaced during
an outrageous bachelor party the previous night that went from bad to
worse. Joining Phil at this
point are the groom's brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and his two other
buddies, Stu (Ed Helms), who both look just as battered and weary. Phil breaks the very, very bad news to the distraught bride
that there is no way that her wedding is going to happen as planned.
film then flashes back two days before the infamous road trip and
bachelor party in Vegas, where we see the groom prepping for his wedding. Doug, Phil, Ed, and Alan then depart in Doug’s future
father-in-law’s prized auto (which, according to the most preordained of
all movie car rules, will definitely not come back to him in one
piece) to Vegas and proceed to check into a $4200 a night luxury suite.
They decide to put the bill on Ed’s credit card, much to his
chagrin, considering that his broadzilla of a wife is an obsessive control
freak and would not appreciate seeing a bill like this on his statement
(Ed is so intimidated and emotionally manhandled by his girlfriend that he
is forced to lie to her about the details of their trip, not to mention
that he needs to provide her with hourly updates).
Alan is another problem altogether, seeing as this overweight,
sleazy-looking creepo that looks like a “Fat Jesus” has an injunction
taking against him stating that he cannot come within 200 feet of children
(which makes picking up Phil at his school a bit tricky).
Phil is no better, seeing that he’s the most ethically
irresponsible teacher in recent movie history (he pretty much steals money
right from under his students' noses to fund the bachelor party trip).
the group checks into the suite and then proceeds to go to the hotel roof
for a little celebratory toast with shooters.
Their basic plan is to drink and gamble throughout the night, but
fate steps in when the hapless buffoon that is Alan slips what he thinks
is ecstasy into their drinks, but it turns out to be roofies.
This has predictable results, because shortly after we see these
bachelor party brothers-in-arms toast one another the film flashes forward
to the very next morning, when it becomes abundantly clear that the party
did not go at all as planned.
When all of the groomsmen awake they have absolutely no memory of what happened the night before. The villa that they stayed the night in has been trashed beyond all recognition, which looks like a bombed out wasteland of the past evening’s activities. Odd problems soon multiple: There is a tiger in the bathroom, making it difficult for Alan to take a much needed hangover pee, a live chicken is seen strutting through the suite, a baby is found crying in a closet, Stu discovers that he is missing one of his front teeth, Phil finds a hospital band on his wrist, and, worst of all, Doug is no where to be found. The most agonizing thing is that neither Phil, Alan, or Stu have any memory of what the hell happened to Doug. Things get really perplexing when Stu finds an ATM receipt for a $800 withdraw and one of them gives their VIP parking pass to the Valet to begin their quest for Doug and the attendant brings a police cruiser to the men and says, “He’s your squad car, officers.”
rest of the film precedes much in the same comic nightmare come true
territory as, say, Martin Scorsese’s much forgotten, but memorable AFTER
HOURS, where the humor often correlates with the dark and macabre
mysteries of the underlining story. Describing
in detail what happens next during the men's one-day ordeal of trying to
piece together hazy details and discover Doug’s whereabouts would spoil
this film’s infectious fun, but let’s just say that it, in no
particular order, their trek involves: visiting a wedding chapel, an
altercation with Stu’s new wife (don’t ask), a stripper named Jade
(Heather Graham), a very chaotic and violent altercation and serious
misunderstanding with a small, but aggressively mean spirited, Chinese
mobster (a truly inspired Ken Jeong), a face off with the actual cops
whose squad car the men now possess, and, rather bizarrely, a hook-up with
Mike Tyson (yes, that one), who is revealed to be the actual owner
of the tiger that has wound up in their Vegas suite.
Tyson emerges as a somewhat gentle soul in the film: he enjoys
lip-syncing and air drumming to “In the Air Tonight”, loves small
dogs, and really is fanatical about the safety of his prized tiger.
He gives the men a rather soft spoken, but stern ultimatum: they
need to return his tiger back to him.
Their method of seeking the man-hungry beast out of the hotel,
undetected by anyone, is rather inspired.
HANGOVER demonstrates an offbeat admiration to its characters, even when
they are placed in the most outrageous circumstances and are, let’s face
it, all losers in some regards. One
angle I liked about the film is how it did not go out of its way to paint
of all of the main characters in a similar light: they all have their
individual personality quirks and much of the hearty laughs come at their
individual expense. For
example, Stu (played in a letter perfect comic performance of real, teeth
clenched anxiety by Helms) is such a whipping boy for his ferociously
domineering girlfriend that it becomes doubly hysterical when he discovers
that he married Jade in the blur that was the bachelor party night.
He also can’t believe that she is wearing his mother’s Holocaust ring,
which he was planning to give to his girlfriend (this leads the idiotic
Alan to ask, “I didn’t know they gave out wedding rings at the
Holocaust?”). Alan’s very
unparalleled dimwittedness shows no bounds when he reveals to his buddies
his plan to win big at the casino blackjack tables in order to pay off
that vile tempered Asian mobster. “Counting
cards is not illegal,” he explains, “It’s just frowned upon, like
masturbating on an airplane.”
of this film would not work if it were not for the film’s solid comedic performances. Helms,
as stated, brings a real level of inner dread and horror to this everyman
schlub who seems more scared of his girlfriend than death itself.
Bradley Cooper does a rather thankless job of blending his hunky,
surfer-like, leading man bravado with that of a rather lecherous, cold
hearted, but mostly goofy and clumsy leader of the pack. Ken Jeong, who has been so incredibly hilarious playing bit
parts in Judd Apatow’s catalogue and was, most recently, side-splitting
as a role-playing addicted man-child in ROLE
MODELS, makes his diminutive crowbar waving, obesity-hating
mobster an unmitigated laugh riot. Finally,
some special recognition needs to be given Zack Galifianakis, who gives a
tour de force, breakout comedy performance her as the slobby, awkward, and
nuttier-than-a-fruit-cake dweeb that is Alan.
His performance is just not a string of madcap verbal riffs or
sluggish physical comedy: Galifianakis brings a level of wide-eyed
earnestness to his otherwise clueless cretin.
Most importantly, Alan is not an entirely comfortable
character and certainly not one that anyone would want as a friend, but
most of the film’s joviality is primarily earned from him saying or
doing things at the most inconvenient moments.
HANGOVER, aside from its smart casting and winning performances, also works
successfully for how much wacky and reckless invention it finds it its
endless ways to sink its troubled and confused personas deeper and deeper
into pits of despair. The
film, as stated, maintains a smutty and brash vibe through and through,
but it does not single-handedly rely on raunch and cheap and disposable
bathroom gags to win over its audience (like far too many other
would-be-uproarious comedies do). Certainly, the film reaches a bawdy and vulgar crescendo in a
knee-slappingly funny end credit sequence – all shown as a picture slide
show – of what actually happened to the boys throughout their
extremely reckless evening out (which also has a few really scandalous
images that seriously earned this film its R rating, if not an
NC-17). Yet, the heart of THE HANGOVER lies with the caginess of its
script (which piles on the twists left and right, most of which we don't
predict) and its fairly grounded (for the most part) performances, which
never degenerate into one-note caricature mode.
HANGOVER has unquestionably been receiving rave critical and audience
support since its release: many have labeled it as one of the great
watershed screen comedies of the last few years (viewers have astoundingly
propelled it to #126 on the IMBD’s TOP 250 FILMS of all time).
However, IMBD rankings have more to do with at-the-moment popular
tastes than worth. Not all of the film works as well as many would
lead on. Some of the film’s gags are limply executed, whereas
there are some that fail to generate a smirk (like when Alan mimes a baby
performing a lewd act...twice...or when we get a really telegraphed and
cheap joke involving breast feeding).
There are also some moments that feel like they are
from a whole other comedy altogether (like when two cops encourage a class
of pre-teens to taser Alan, Phil, and Stu in the groin and head as pay
back for them stealing their police car).
Sometimes, I smiled more than laughed-out-loud
throughout THE HANGOVER, which instantly removes it from consideration of
legendary cult comedic status. Yet,
the film is funny and smart enough in just the right amounts and
represents a solid return to form for director Todd Phillips, who forgot
to embody his last film - the feeble-minded and mass audience friendly SCHOOL
FOR SCOUNDRELS - with the
same jolt of testosterone driven and hard-R rated high jinks that made his
OLD SCHOOL and ROAD TRIP such naughty delights. Alas, Phillips can chalk
up another for THE HANGOVER, which frequently revels in juvenile and
tasteless extremes, but mostly in agreeable and tolerable ways
and never primarily for the soul purpose of being nauseatingly foul.