Directed by: Todd Phillips (School for Scoundrels)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham
I went to see The Hangover not knowing what to expect. On one hand, it was directed by Todd Phillips, the man who brought the world such cinematic delights as Old School (2003) and School for Scoundrels (2006). The simple fact that this man has shoved both Will Ferrell and Jon Heder onto the public at large is enough to consider utilizing some type of medieval torture device on him. Preferably something rusty. On the other hand, The Hangover’s early reviews were surprisingly positive, enough so that it made me somewhat hopeful. A good comedy? In this day and age? Is it possible?
What I soon found out is that The Hangover’s not as bad as its pedigree and not as good as some might lead you to believe. Sure, the movie is in the same vein as a lot of modern comedies, peopled with a bunch of immature, vulgar louts in all types of crude R-rated gross-out situations that, in theory, are uproariously hilarious. Usually they’re not, and in the case of The Hangover, they’re never more than chuckle-worthy. But where most movies of this ilk just turn plain old obnoxious, Phillips’ film somehow never quite goes there, and you can thank the cast for that.
The setup is simple, with three guys—Phil (Bradley Cooper, Midnight Meat Train), a sleazy school teacher in a loveless marriage; Stu (Ed Helms, TV’s The Office), a dentist in a suffocating relationship; and the imbecilic, awkward Alan (Zach Galifianakis, What Happens in Vegas)—taking their friend Doug (Justin Bartha, National Treasure) to Vegas for his bachelor party. Problems arise when the trio wakes up in an inexplicably and unbelievably trashed hotel room with absolutely no memory of the previous night and Doug nowhere to be found. From here, the movie becomes a kind of whodunit (even if the outcome isn’t all that amazing), as the three attempt to track down Doug before his wedding, getting into more and more improbable, farcical situations, from being attacked by a nude Asian man with a tire iron (Ken Jeong, Role Models) to returning Mike Tyson’s stolen tiger.
Maybe it’s simply that we’re not dealing with yet another comedy starring Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen. In and of themselves, the film’s overgrown frat boys are rarely likable. Phil is a cad who scams field-trip money from his elementary-school students. Stu is whiney and spineless, and Alan is downright weird. But Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis somehow, bizarrely, make them relatable. At the very least, their characters are tolerable. There’s no self-satisfied mugging, no look-at-how-funny-I-am moments, and no one’s out to steal the show. The interaction between the three is what makes the movie work within its own limited means.
This, of course, does not guarantee mirth, something that’s too often missing here. The surprising and preposterous situations the guys get themselves into are never that surprising or preposterous, and the smut is never all that smutty. This is a movie where the apex of comedic genius is the mere sight of a naked elderly man, where Mike Epps is in the film for a whole five minutes and gets the movie’s best line. No, The Hangover is never the laff riot it set out to be, but the simple truth that it turned out bearable is an achievement in itself. Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, including nudity, and some drug material.