Here is a movie that has become qualified viewing before-and-after trips to Vegas, as well as one that will become an around the clock fraternity broadcast at college campuses everywhere. The Hangover liberates its characters in a classic convertible to have a hells-on-fire bachelor party in the ultimate GQ high-roller Mecca – the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The joke is this four-man crew doesn’t look cool enough to have a wild-on night of untamed debauchery. Beyond their estimation and ours, somehow they awake to remnants of the pandemonium they spurred and they don’t remember a goddamn thing.
Blame it on the roofies. Upon rude awakening, there is a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom and a chicken. The chicken is never explained. Those are some of the more digestible discoveries these guys will have compared to the helter-skelter shock of what else awaits them. A missing tooth? A run-in with Mike Tyson? A naked Asian Mafioso in their trunk? Kids taser-gunning them? The greatest problem is that groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha) is missing and his wedding is in two days.
Of the crew, Phil (Bradley Cooper) is the one cool enough to seem like he’d know how to have a wild time. He is the designated leader when it comes to retracing the steps of the previous night. Stu (Ed Helms) is the obligatory uptight dork with a fascist girlfriend back home who hysterically has to lie to her that they’re “wine-tasting in Napa Valley.” Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is the hideously ungroomed oddball member of the quartet – he informs us that he is not allowed within 100 feet of a school according to a restraining order.
Who knows why anybody in the audience would believe that these four opposites are actually friends (Phil seems like he should be partying at the sex-swingers preferred yacht-club in Miami Beach), but what it comes down to is that the incidents are funnier than the actual characters. Incidents that include revisits to wedding chapels, to the emergency room, to Mike Tyson’s mansion, to a desolate desert site that looks like a ominous restaging of DeNiro and Pesci in “Casino.” The homage to the casino scene in “Rain Man” is a howl, and cinephiles can now count Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson as visual references that writer-director Todd Phillips (“Old School,” “Starsky & Hutch”) is borrowing from.
The characters have their “arcs” but their starting points are strictly behaving to Hollywood playbook standards. Stu is an overly rationalizing drag who frets over every new discovery of what happened (embrace the decadence, man!), and Alan is the kind of creepy guy you would ditch before you’d let him hang out with you (you half expect cockroaches to crawl out of that jungle mangle beard of his). The female characters are mostly passive – which in a male-buddy comedy is pardoned – with Heather Graham (“Boogie Nights” and now “The Hangover” belong on Mr.Skin.com) as the ultimate hanger-on passive female.
The uncovering of that’s-what-really-happened is the true appeal of “The Hangover.” Yet the best part of the movie is a still-photo montage that explains everything that happened during the bachelor party. The photo montage technique hasn’t worked this well since “GoodFellas.”
100 Minutes. Rated R.
Note: There is a shorter but raunchier 96-minute Unrated edition available on DVD.
COMEDY / CRUDE HUMOR / PRE-VEGAS TRIP PRE-REQUISITE VIEWING
Film Cousins: “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978); “Casino” (1995); “Old School” (2003); Pineapple Express” (2008).