Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Hangover / ***½ (R)

Phil Wenneck: Bradley Cooper
Stu Price: Ed Helms
Alan Garner: Zack Galifianakis
Doug Billings: Justin Bartha
Jade: Heather Graham
Tracy Garner: Sasha Barrese
Melissa: Rachel Harris
Mike Tyson: Mike Tyson

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore. Running time: 100 min. Rated R (for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material).

I remember a three-year period in the mid-80s when my parents subscribed to HBO. I used to sneak down in the middle of the night to see the ‘R’ rated comedies my parents didn’t want me seeing. The fact that I wasn’t a master sneak might explain why my parents canceled their subscription after only three years. But this was during a more innocent time when there were certain types of comedies that HBO wouldn’t play until 10 p.m. or so. These comedies usually had nudity and involved a hair-brained scheme by the heroes to partake in all the booze, drugs, and debauchery they could get away with until they were caught by the people who wouldn’t want them doing those things, like girlfriends and wives.

The new comedy, “The Hangover”, is about such an event in four men’s lives, but it is so much more intelligently crafted than those silly movies I would sneak down and watch with the sound turned down so low I could barely hear them. Who knows? Maybe some of them were actually good, but it’s hard to imagine they were as good as this one.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My words were “intelligently crafted,” not “intelligent.” Were that nasty word involved, none of this would be as fun as it is. You see, the genius of this story of debauchery is that we miss the whole night of sin and sensationalism and wake up the following day with three groomsmen who don’t remember the bachelor party and seem to have lost the groom. Over the next 48 hours the three friends must scour Las Vegas to reconstruct their crazy evening and try to find the groom in time to get him to his wedding.

To call the three of them friends is a little misleading. Two of them are longtime friends of the groom. Phil (Bradley Cooper, “Midnight Meat Train”) is the de facto leader of the group. He has dashing good looks and an aversion to marriage—he’s actually already married with a dreary job of teaching high school to escape. He comes up with the plan for a crazy night in Vegas. Stu (Ed Helms, “The Daily Show”) has a controlling girlfriend (Rachael Harris, “Reno 911!”) whom he must call every fifteen minutes or so to convey his ongoing lie that they’re touring Napa Valley for the “bachelor weekend.” Nothing sounds like a good idea to Stu, yet somehow he ends up being the one to discover that he married a stripper named Jade (Heather Graham, “Scrubs”) at some point during their group blackout.

The third is hardly a friend; he’s the bride’s brother. Phil and Stu aren’t sure he’s playing with a full deck of cards, and comedian Zack Galifianakis (“What Happens in Vegas”) is just about the strangest oddball actor they could get to play Alan. I can imagine during the pitch meeting a name like Will Ferrell’s came up as a 1st choice for this role, but Galifianakis goes beyond Ferrell’s simple strangeness and brings an uncomfortable quality to his performance that becomes projected upon all those around him. A couple lines come to mind to exemplify this. “Um, I shouldn’t be here. There’s a court order that says I’m not supposed to be within 200 yards of a school.” Or even better, “Would you please put some pants on? I think it’s strange that I should have to ask twice.”

The hardest part about reviewing a great comedy is conveying just how funny it is. The comedy in “The Hangover” evolves from the mystery of just what happened during their night of debauchery. Many filmmakers believe incidents are funny just because they exist, but this is not true. The incidents in “The Hangover” are the same type of stupid situation comedy that can be found in just about any straight to DVD National Lampoon movie, but what makes it so funny is that these characters must discover just what disgusting and idiotic deeds they did after the fact.

Perhaps the best part of “The Hangover” is that we never get to see what actually happened during that long evening in Vegas. The audience is invited to participate by filling in those blanks on our own. In this way “The Hangover” is a very intelligent comedy because it engages us and makes us active participants in the humor. However, if you stay for the credits, you will get to see pictures from the missing memories.

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