Doug is about to be married to Tracy, and for his last hurrah, his best friends and her brother have planned a trip to Vegas two days before the ceremony. One night of getting their rocks off in Sin City should tide the boy over and prepare him to settle down, but the next morning, when the three friends wake up in their own filth and without the groom, it's clear something went wrong. The next twenty-four hours are spent piecing together the bachelor party to end all bachelor parties, trying to find at which point Doug went off the grid. Tigers, babies, stolen cop cars, trips to the hospitals, Chinese gangsters, and Mike Tyson all figure into the absent hours, but each comedic turn brings only confusion, no future husband.
The Hangover is the new film from Todd Phillips, the director of Old School and a couple of unfunny missteps like Starsky & Hutch and School for Scoundrels. Luckily, he has gotten his overgrown adolescent groove back, and The Hangover takes us back to the kind of crude dude comedy that made his name. In fact, this film appears to be redemption for a lot of people. Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have also penned recent duds like Ghost of Girlfriends Past. Gentlemen, you are forgiven.
The smart concept of The Hangover is that essentially we are watching a journey in reverse, a puzzle being put back together after the four guys drunkenly smashed it. Doug (Justin Bartha) is the stable lynchpin of the bro pack, leaving his clueless pals all on their own to track him down. There is the bitter, jerkish married man Phil (Bradley Cooper), the henpecked nerd Stu (Ed Helms from The Office), and the weird, hairy manchild Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the tag-along brother-in-law, not too bright and riddled with neuroses. Together, they hit their various comedy types on the nose, playing them as expected and doing it well. Helms and Galifianakis are the show stealers here. Both manage physical performances that aren't overly quirky or mannered, but that are still uniquely them. Helms throws out precise, dramatic gestures to emphasize his points, whereas Galifianakis' slovenly tumbles are hilarious for being so haphazard. Likewise, his out-of-left-field asides tend to be the funniest lines of the movie, and he delivers them with such little fanfare, you could almost miss them--though it's that off-the-cuff demeanor that makes the zingers work the way the do, like slow, ever-expanding burns. In comparison, Bradley Cooper is kind of stuck with the thankless job of being the a-hole, but he manages to distinguish himself quite well. The Hangover wouldn't gel without him, he is the glue that binds the two weirdos together.
Of course, the movie is populated with plenty of other weirdos, as well, and each new person to cross the boys' path is weirder than the last. To Phillips' credit, he doesn't let hysterical cameos by The Daily Show's Rob Riggle and Ken Jeong (Role Models, Knocked Up) run long enough to overshadow his leads, but instead uses them as the springboards for further gags. It's almost like a murder mystery in the way the suspects are lined up, each one adding to the story, taking the detectives closer to the truth. It's a simple-yet-brilliant concept: by showing the aftermath of the debauchery, the lewd behavior never gets tiring or overly gross. It's the amazement of discovery, the shock at what might have happened, that keeps striking the funnybone. Like a horror movie that suggests at gore rather than showing it, it's funnier in our imaginations than it would be if it was actually on the screen.
In the most simple of terms, I loved The Hangover. I laughed loudly and I laughed a lot. While not intelligent humor, it is smart, and though at times wonderfully lowbrow, never cheap. The cast and crew work for your giggles, and their efforts pay big. If you laughed at all at the trailer for this movie, then you will enjoy the rest of it, too--and, no they did not give away all the best jokes already. There's plenty more. So if you like it raunchy, off-kilter, and cleverly dumb, then get ready, The Hangover is one of the best parties of the summer.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.