The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover is a dark, sick, consistently funny movie (with a few slow spots midway) about four friends who head to Vegas for a bachelor party and end up in the biggest mess of their lives. There are no sympathetic characters, with the possible exception of the groom, Doug (Justin Bartha), who doesn't get much screen time, and the tone veers from semi-realistic to completely surreal, sometimes jarringly, but overall, it's a road/disaster/party pic without any qualms, and lots of laughs. I think I actually snorted with laughter once at the very end, and it had me laughing all the way through.

The main weakness of The Hangover is the lack of a truly sympathetic character, I'd say, or even just a character you can really like despite outrageous behavior. It's in the writing; the actors are all likable enough personalities.

Bradley Cooper plays Phil, a schoolteacher who steals from his students, says he hates his wife and kid, and causes most of the big trouble the group gets into, though it must be granted that much of his bad behavior occurs during their grand blackout of a bacchanal. Ed Helms ("The Daily Show," "The Office") is Stu, a dentist who's much too whiny to identify with, who has a horrible girlfriend he probably deserves. Doug, the groom, again, is absent for most of the film.

And that brings us to this movie's X-factor, Zach Galifianakis as the bride's brother, Alan, a very funny, truly out-of-touch-with-reality man-child who can't hide his eccentricities, some of which are disgusting, and the rest of which are pathetic.

Again, some of his eccentricities are so anti-social or unsympathetic that they're hilarious, but they still leave the movie without a real center, though I suppose that's part of what lets it spin out of control so blithely and blissfully. You do kind of love Alan, and partly for his unlikability.

Mike Tyson has an outstanding cameo as himself, partially spoiled by the trailer. Rob Riggle ("The Daily Show") has a great bit part as a sadistic cop. Ken Jeong is quite memorable as Mr. Chow. Jeffrey Tambor as the father of the bride and Heather Graham as the other bride are amusing but pretty much wasted in terms of their comedic potential--even one or two more skewed scenes or lines of dialogue from them would have added immensely.

There's a ridiculous throwaway parody of Rain Man and A Beautiful Mind which doesn't mean anything, but which comes at exactly the right moment to sort of glide the film up into a different plane of comedy for a bit. (And, ironically, Galifianakis's Alan is probably a bit more like the real-life John Nash than is the cleaned-up Beautiful Mind character portrayed by Russell Crowe.)

The film has a mixed penchant for male nudity, mostly quite unpleasant, which doesn't add much, and compares unfavorably with, say, Walk Hard or the more recent Observe and Report, where it's used to mine for more genuinely absurd humor. I'm actually kind of baffled about why the film isn't rated NC-17, given a certain moment at the end, and yes, that's a bit of a warning to more offendable moviegoers.

The Hangover reminded me of Scorsese's After Hours, the 1980 teen movie Midnight Madness and the Ethan Hawke starrer Mystery Date, wacky capers where the trouble just gets deeper and deeper for the hapless main characters, all movies which were more good-natured and successful. Still, it's very funny, not sublimely funny, but a good time at the movies, and Galifianakis is a star.

6-5-09


Links for The Hangover

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

Official Site

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