It's odd. I saw director Todd Phillips' Old School when it came out back in 2003 (one of the first R-rated movies I remember seeing in theaters), and, like most people, I thought it was pretty funny. I've also seen Road Trip once, long ago, although I'll be damned if I remember any of it, and I watched Starsky & Hutch early one morning at a friend's house while I was waiting for other people to wake up and thought it was one of the worst movies of 2004. I like Ed Helms on "The Office" and have enjoyed some of his bit parts in other comedies, I've wondered how Bradley Cooper feels going from underground comedies like Wet Hot American Summer to placating romantic comedy dreck like He's Just Not That Into You, and I constantly heard about how funny Zach Galifianakis was without ever being quite motivated to check him out. If you'd asked me at the beginning of 2009, I'm sure I wouldn't have guessed that these were the ingredients for film comedy history. Sometimes, though, the stars just align, and align they did over The Hangover, 2009's legitimate comedy phenomenon, the one that ousted Wedding Crashers (a movie I didn't care for) from its throne as the all-time R-rated comedy box office champion.
The plot is simple: three guys wake up after a night of debauchery at a bachelor party and discover that not only do they all have Vegas-induced amnesia, but the groom-to-be (Justin Bartha) is missing. Of course, this is also essentially the plot of the mildly moronic 2000 comedy Dude, Where's My Car?, minus the stoner references and alien invaders. It just goes to prove that a movie is all in the execution: The Hangover utilizes its premise to perfect effect by never taking it all that seriously. The movie doesn't worry too much about why these guys can't remember, and finds ways to make sure the viewer cares whether the crew finds Bartha's character Doug and gets him back home in time, leaving the rest of the movie for these talented improvisers to riff on their predicament rather than relying on meticulously overwritten sketch scenes.
So much has already been written about Galifianakis' performance as Alan, and I could try and take a different tack for my review, but I just can't. His oddball detachment really makes the movie in almost every scene: the emotionless, blank stare on his face as he completely fails to understand how Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) are trying to get him to turn when the three of them are in handcuffs, his total disregard for hygiene and his own health ("Ew! Alan, did you just eat sofa pizza?"), his bizarre mimicry of Phil in the desert ("Shoot!"). It's the perfect distillation of the popular comedian's act (the Chuck E. Cheese joke is from his routine) and the elements of a character into a unique role that allows Galifianakis to steal literally dozens of moments away from his co-stars. And director Phillips never seems interested in intruding on the actor's style, even accentuating Alan's insanity with hilarious on-screen graphics during one of the film's climactic scenes.
With Judd Apatow's running times creeping steadily towards three hours, it's a nice reprieve to watch The Hangover and practically feel the breeze as the movie soars by. Phillips and co-writer Daniel Goldberg (who apparently churned out a draft almost unrecognizably different than the WGA-credited screenplay by Ghosts of Girlfriends Past screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) know that the audience caring about Doug doesn't mean worrying about him every second, and they keep the script light on its toes and packed with funny diversions. Talented comedians like Rob Riggle, Matt Walsh and Ken Jeong (plus, of course, Mike Tyson) each change the tone of the comedy ever-so-slightly in each subsequent scene, and none of them overstay their welcome. The only shame is that the always funny Jeffrey Tambor is barely there as the father of the bride, although the Unrated cut rectifies this a little (see the section below for more details).
Having seen the film several times, the flaws do start to show. It's certainly true that the movie is listless in choosing a central character, basically letting process of elimination take the lead until it can hastily sweep everything else under the carpet. I mean, I can accept that Phil's comments about how he hates his life are just sarcasm for the sake of his three buddies, but they're positioned oddly within the film, hinting at some sort of epiphany for his character that never materializes. It's not that I need Phil to have a grand arc, but nonetheless there are half-hearted indications of one that doesn't exist. On the whole, the film feels a bit slapdash (you can still sense the formulaic Lucas/Moore draft in there somewhere), and sometimes it looks like it's in danger of falling apart, but again, the film basically holds together by just running towards the endzone and refusing to look back. One could also criticize the movie for being a bit of a boys' club (there's a slightly questionable line or two), but Heather Graham brings some high-caliber sweetness to cancel things out (one hopes there are no more Baby on Board-level disasters in her future).
The Unrated Version
Both the theatrical and a new cut of The Hangover are included on this Blu-Ray disc, the latter running eight minutes longer than the former. Most of these additions are pretty negligible, including additional bonding between Doug and Tracy, Alan's reaction to profanity in elevators (two separate scenes), and an on-the-nose speech from Phil on the roof, but some of them are amusing, such as a discussion about almonds in the hotel room and a particularly amusing scene with Jeffrey Tambor right at the end of the movie. All in all, I think I prefer the theatrical cut, but it's worth skipping around the longer version or giving it at least a one-time spin just to see the new footage.
The Hangover comes with fairly well-arranged but obviously Photoshopped artwork depicting the gang on the edge of the desert with their damaged Mercedes. It looks fine, I suppose, although I wonder why Warner always uses the poster artwork on their 1-disc, non-special editions rather than the deluxe versions. The artwork has a glossy slipcover over it with the same artwork, and a crowded back cover full of competing fonts and large text that doesn't bother to explain anything about the movie. I guess Warner is assuming, given that the movie made $300 million in theaters this summer, that you've already seen it, especially since it reveals a few plot points by way of the images they've chosen for the back and the sticker they've placed on the front. Inside the case is an insert with Digital Copy instructions and an ad for WB Insider Rewards, which can get you a free Blu-Ray if you buy five participating titles and jump through some hoops.
The Video and Audio
The movie's 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen presentation really looks stellar in high-definition. Like I previously mentioned, I saw The Hangover several times this summer, including a drive-in and a dollar theater, but even the presentations I saw in standard theaters probably didn't reveal as much detail as I can see watching it on my HDTV. The majority of The Hangover takes place at night smack dab in the center of a fully lit-up Las Vegas, and the rich black levels and sparkling lights are really eye-popping. All of this is expected for a current release, but it doesn't change the fact that the movie really shines in HD.
Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 is equally impressive. I think the music in The Hangover, particularly the score by Christophe Beck, is surprisingly good, and it's crisply represented by this excellent track that also picks up all the nuances of even the most mumbled dialogue. The balance between the directional effects (which are surprisingly frequent given all the action in the movie) and the lines is very good, and there's also nothing quite like hearing Flo Rida's "Right Round" in high-def either. Dolby Digital 5.1, Quebec French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1 (theatrical version only) are also included, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French, Spanish and (unadvertised) Portuguese subtitles.
I hate to say it, but the extras on this Blu-Ray release of The Hangover are pretty lame. I would be far from shocked to see a more elaborate special edition of the movie farther on down the line, probably about the time The Hangover 2 is opening in theaters.
First, let's discuss the video features. Kicking things off is the "Map of Destruction" interactive feature, which opens up a little diagram of the strip featuring links to "Desert Lot/Mr. Chow" (2:01), "Jail" (1:33), "Mercedes Left on Strip" (0:00), "The Bellagio" (0:00), "The Palms" (0:00), "Hard Rock Hotel and Casino" (1:03), "Riviera Casino" (1:52), "Caesar's Palace Hotel" (1:36), "Caesar's Palace Suite" (1:12), "Strip Club" (1:07), "Best Little Wedding Chapel" (1:10), "Hospital" (0:53) and "Mike Tyson's House" (1:44). Not only is this a remarkably irritating way to look at each location (I've seen maps similar to this on DVDs before and never bothered to go through them just due to the hassle of clicking on each entry), but the video bonuses at each location are extremely brief and uninformative (not to mention most of the interviews with the stars seem chopped beyond all recognition). A couple of these entries are just sound clips from the movie as well, without an accompanying video clip.
Next, we have the featurette "The Madness of Ken Jeong" (7:56), which is basically just the various takes from the actor's two dialogue scenes as the villainous Leslie Chow. I love Ken Jeong as much as the next person (he's been excellent in everything I've seen him in, The Hangover included), but the best material is in the movie, and unedited takes of a hyperactive comedy performance are often more exhausting than funny, which is the case here.
"Action Mashup" (0:35), "Three Best Friends Song" (1:23), "The Dan Band!" (1:08) and a gag reel (8:16) are all comprised of footage shot for the movie. The first two are skippable (although they should use Galifianakis' line about not needing a bachelor party to hang out in the teaser for the sequel), while watching Phillips' favorite wedding band perform "Fame" is worth a chuckle and the second half of the gag reel (with Galifianakis and Helms riffing on each other's physical appearance) is actually legitimately funny. Finally, "More Pictures From the Missing Camera" is remarkably underwhelming; just like the Jeong footage, the best of it made the movie, and there are no shocking revelations to be had.
So what does that leave? The Blu-Ray's big exclusive is a picture-in-picture video commentary by director Phillips and stars Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis on the theatrical version of the film. It's better than the other material Warner has dredged up for this release, but it's surprisingly low-key given the participants in question. Amusing topics include Alan's mentality towards other people, "mysterious" changes in the physical appearance of the baby in the movie, Matt Walsh's technique for not corpsing, Zach's friendly jabs at fellow stand-up comedian Brody Stevens and Ed Helms' inability to keep it together around Galifianakis, either on set or watching the film during the commentary session. One of the most notable things about the audio commentary (and perhaps all of the extras on this Blu-Ray) is that it was recorded when the movie was still being run through test screenings (the actors often comment on whether things have been left in or left out), and thus, before the movie went on to become one of the highest-earning movies of the year. It's also too bad that Justin Bartha was unavailable for the commentary, even if he's absent for 70% of the movie, and the Picture-in-Picture element is a little weird -- I caught Cooper glancing at the camera at least once and Phillips seems to think that the track will be more interactive than it is.
Heading through the BD-Live gateway leads to two additional features, called "Cursing Mashup" (0:34) and "Iron Mike Online Teaser" (approximately two minutes), which are equal in quality to the features on the disc (although I guess I'd rather have the cursing montage than the action montage), as well as promos for Edge of Darkness, LEGO Rock Band and Sherlock Holmes. Clicking on both of these videos prompted a minute or so of loading, yet both videos still needed to load further in the middle despite their extremely short length. The BD-Live gateway also requires you to register via email or login using an on-screen keyboard, which is a bit of a hassle. The menu is preceeded by trailers for Warner Blu-Ray, Digital Copy, Terminator Salvation, Four Christmases and Sherlock Holmes. A digital copy of the theatrical edition is also included.
The Hangover is, hands down, the funniest pure comedy of 2009 thanks to the interaction and improvisational skills of the three lead actors, who form a comedic chemistry that really aids what could otherwise be a gimmicky comedy in going off without a hitch. Admittedly, the bonus features on this so-called "special edition" leave lots to be desired, but the movie is what's most important, and the HD presentation sparkles. If fans decide to wait and see if the Blu-Ray happens turns up in their possession before the end of the giving season, I wouldn't blame them, but either way, thanks to the movie itself, this package is recommended.
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