The Hangover is a buddy/road
comedy that has many of the same plot points as director Todd Phillips'
previous pictures Road Trip (1998) and Old School (2003).
But the familiar structure is strengthened by the performances of a
talented cast of comic actors. I would propose that these performances,
along with the celebration of a clichéd male rite of passage and the
trite Vegas setting, account for this film holding the current box office
record for R-rated comedies.
Doug Billings (Justin Bartha)
is to be married in a couple of days, but not before he goes to Las
Vegas for a bachelor weekend with his friends Phil (Bradley Cooper)
and Stu (Ed Helms), and brother-in-law to-be Alan (Zach Galifianakis).
After arriving in Vegas at the wheel of his father-in-law's classic
Mercedes, the quartet pledge their friendship and embark on Doug's
"final" evening of debauchery. Cut to the next morning.
Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up in their $4,200-per-night Caesar's Palace
suite. Doug is nowhere in sight. There is a tiger in the
bathroom. Stu has lost an incisor. And there's a baby
in the closet. The three guys proceed to reconstruct their evening,
find the baby's mother, and locate Doug - all while trying to get
back to Los Angeles in time for Doug's wedding.
The three lead characters -
and the actors who portray them - are the reason The Hangover
rises above the commonplace outlines of the screenplay. Phil is
a sleazy hotshot, a schoolteacher who funds his Vegas weekend with his
students' field trip fees; Cooper carries off the role with a likeable
scumminess of the sort Robert Mitchum made famous. Stu is an uptight,
browbeaten dentist whose long-term girlfriend treats him like shit and
has cheated on him at least once. He's a nervous Nellie and
Ed Helms plays him just right - as someone who desperately needs to
break out of his self-imposed prison. However, Zach Galifianakis
nearly steals the entire movie as Alan, a weirdo with a child-like lack
of awareness and knowledge about the world. He's got a lot of
Teddy from Arsenic and Old Lace
in him, along with a tendency to not wear any pants.
Although the set-pieces here
are hit-and-miss - a bit involving Tasers should have been cut altogether
- the actors and the quick direction by Phillips keep things interesting.
Waiting for Galifianakis's oddball line readings alone is enough to
keep the average viewer engaged. But the script takes certain
aspects of the plot seriously, particularly Stu's dilemma. While
Phil's sleazy disregard for his job and family is not fully explored,
he is wisely shifted into the third place of importance, since his character
is flatter than Stu or Alan. The final credits roll over stills
that document their forgotten night, ending the movie on a hilarious
Overall, The Hangover
is much funnier than it could have been. What could easily have
ended up as a rude, colorless comedy ends up with a lot of laughs thanks
to great casting and skilled performances.