Release Date: June 5
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Cinematographer: Lawrence Sher
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha
Studio/Run Time: Warner Bros. Pictures, 100 mins
Three Men and a Groom in Vegas
Anticipating the headache described in its title, I wasn’t looking forward to The Hangover, a raucous guys-in-Vegas, party-outta-control movie with a plot lifted from that influential modern American work of art, Dude, Where’s My Car? Here come the shrill, controlling, humorless girlfriends, the obnoxious boozing of boys who will be boys, and—yikes—a bundle of joy that could turn the whole stupid thing into 4 Men and a Baby. Dude, where’s my self respect? And if we can’t find that, how about a barf bag?
While I’m not ready to call the film a triumph, its approach to humor is smart enough to benefit greatly from low expectations. Which is to say, it’s an enjoyable piece of trash. Doug, a groom-to-be, and his three groomsmen pile into a car and head to Vegas for a night on the town before the big day, and the film’s slightly unexpected sense of detail emerges once they hit the road. The guys tool along the highway very slowly so they don’t ding the classic Mercedes that was loaned to them by the father of the bride. A child in the next car over flips them off, and they recoil in shock. Party animals, these aren’t—or at least they aren’t any more.
But the real trick of the film appears when the guys begin their evening with a toast on the roof of their hotel. Director Todd Phillips (Old School, Road Trip) cuts immediately to the aftermath the next day, without even a glimpse of what transpired that night, plunging us—and the characters—into the surreal morning after, where a surprise is planted in every corner of the suite. A lost tooth. A live chicken. A wrist band from a hospital visit. What the hell happened?
From there the guys retrace their steps to reconstruct the night’s events in order to understand and, where necessary, undo the current situation, like the guy with no short-term memory in Memento. The wedding looms over the horizon. Time is of the essence. But that cut from the roof straight to the hangover shows Phillips’ strategy of economy. Humor depends on logic, so tracing the steps is important, but not if the procedural bogs down the jokes. The Hangover finds a nice balance between answering questions and zipping through set pieces.
The humor, of course, is dumb and offensive, but in an entirely expected way—which is to say not offensive at all, unless you figured there’d be no jokes about women or gay men or tighty whities or ugly people. The movie betrays its good-natured roots in the final third when a live tiger overstays its welcome and elicits horrified looks that would have fit into a Disney film from the ’50s. I flashed back to Fred MacMurray demonstrating flubber, and Tommy Kirk turning into a shaggy dog, and Dean Jones stiffening at the sight of a brewing disaster. (Or, further back, Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby where the “baby” is indeed a leopard.) This is old-fashioned comedy that relies on well-timed reaction shots as much as it does fantastical situations, and Zach Galifianakis is particularly enjoyable as the sweet but strange loser who will become Doug’s brother-in-law if the mess is cleaned up in time. Sharing a family with this guy would be a mixed reward, but the film’s obvious affection for the lug, like its excitement over a loose tiger and its chuckles at the thought of Mike Tyson singing a Phil Collins song, are easy to like. Thankfully, the baby in the film is nothing but a joke, and The Hangover, which never turns serious, is pointless, goofy fun.
Watch the trailer for The Hangover: