(originally appeared on GreenCine's Guru site.)
Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***
Things don't start out so promisingly in The Hangover [official site]. Not just for the protagonists - a quartet of guys heading to Vegas for a bachelor party weekend - but for the audience, because the first act sets up rather obviously a series of things that clearly will later go horribly awry, while also revealing that the women in the film will either be: beautiful and bland; controlling nags; or strippers. Add to that the fact that the central bride and groom characters aren't especially interesting, and it's cause for worry.
And yet, thankfully, the story centers around the mismatched, oddball trio of men who quickly get up to their necks in trouble, and The Hangover goes off in blessedly unpredictable and often riotous directions as soon as they hit the road.
Those familiar with the ouevre of Todd Phillips, who has made one mostly dreadful Outrageous Comedy in Road Trip and one surprisingly winning outrageous comedy in Old School (and one that is both, in Starsky and Hutch) may rightly expect a fair amount of grossout humor -- and they'd be right -- but it's also undeniably funny.
And that the main trio (separate from the soon to be missing groom) are played by the deadpan Zach Galifianakis, the sweetly goofy Ed Helms (the "Nard Dog" on The Office) and likable Bradley Cooper raises this silly comedy a level above what it could have been.
In fact, bearded comedian Galifianakis (HBO's Bored to Death), who can sell a line like, "This isn't the real Caesar's Palace is it?" (asked of a hotel clerk) as no one else could, steals the film, mixing his absurdist stand up routine with his gift for creating sweetly quiet lunatic characters.
The plot cleverly works as a bit of a mystery as well. The Hangover skips over the bachelor party in question and goes straight on to the Morning After, when Ed Helms' Stu wakes up in his suite with a chicken clucking around his head, there's a tiger in the bathroom, and most importantly, the groom-to-be is MIA. The remaining trio then become amateur sleuths as they desperately try to piece together what exactly went awry the night before (short answer: a lot) and where the hell their friend ended up.
A few scenes go a bit too far into the realm of the unreal, and borderline cruel (cops who let school kids taze our heroes, bro), and of course it wouldn't be a Todd Phillips movie without pushing the boundaries of taste, but everytime it threatens to veer off the rails, The Hangover, with screenplay by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, tips it back in place.
And to its benefit, even those worrisome female characterizations seen at the beginning are arguably self-satirical, as in the abuses suffered by the beleaguered Stu by his girlfriend, which become increasingly surreal and absurd. Speaking of asburd: there's also an appropriately bizarro surprise cameo that rivals the one in Zombieland.
The denouement wraps up a bit too neatly and even sentimentally for what had been an anarchic comedy, as it can't quite bring itself to go fully dark -- just to remind us this is still a Hollywood film.
Perhaps one's enjoyment of the film's silly anarchy depends on mood. I'm not sure why a Rainman reference/satire would be funny 20 years later but a nod to it here made me chuckle. Maybe someone slipped me a roofie.
And don't leave before watching the closing credits as well, which pay off nicely.
Note: The first disc is the extended version of the film and the extra scenes don't add much. You can watch the theatrical version on the 2nd disc. That DVD also includes an amusing featurette "The Madness of Ken Jeong," a nutty tangent with the hilarious character actor (Knocked Up, TV's Community). The rest of the extras are rather disappointingly scant, however.
Helms and Jeong also appear in another silly comedy out today - The Goods - and to watch the two together is to see how one can be done right and the other...not so good.