Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review - The Hangover

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, we are frequently told during Todd Phillips'
The Hangover, but the film's central premise concerns three guys desperately trying to figure just what exactly did happen during their Vegas bachelor party. After a night dedicated to celebrating Doug's (Justin Bartha) impending nuptials, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) regain consciousness in their hotel suite, with no memory of what they did the night before. The room has been trashed, one of the chairs is smouldering, there's a chicken wandering around, a tiger in the bathroom, and a baby in the closet. Phil is wearing a bracelet indicating he spent part of the night in hospital, and Stu is faced with a double whammy – he has lost a tooth and married a stripper (Heather Graham) – but the most worrying discovery is the fact that Doug is missing, and nobody has any idea where he is.

So begins a very strange odyssey, in which the three friends attempt to piece together the events of the previous night and locate the groom, running afoul of Chinese gangsters (led by a hilariously OTT Ken Jeong), taser-happy cops and Mike Tyson in the process. To reveal much more about the plot would be a mistake, because part of
The Hangover's considerable appeal lies in the way the film consistently manages to top itself in inventive ways, piling further pain and humiliation on its bewildered protagonists. This is a terrifically funny movie that sustains itself surprisingly well, mainly thanks to the detective element of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's screenplay, which drives the narrative from one comic set-up to another at a swift pace. In fact, Phillips manages to draw a fair amount of tension from the film's setup, with the wedding edging ever closer and with the boys no nearer to locating their missing groom. This is a great return to form for the director, who gave us Old School in 2003 before directing the twin debacles Starsky and Hutch and School for Scoundrels. He opens the film with an evocative credits sequence, and his handling of the action is focused and efficiently staged throughout, but his best work is done with the actors, with the central three playing off each other superbly.

Bradley Cooper's disrupted composure and Ed Helms' steadily increasing hysteria are fun to watch, but the film is comprehensively stolen by Galifianakis, who turns in a hilarious performance as bizarre man-child Alan. There's a wonderful innocence to his deadpan delivery, such as when he asks the receptionist at Caesar's Palace if Caesar actually lived there, or when he confidently states, "Tigers love pepper, they hate cinnamon." He can even make a gag about baby masturbation funny, and his
Rain Man spoof late in the picture is priceless. Regrettably, with so much male-based humour on show, the female characters are relegated to the sidelines. Heather Graham gets to do little more than smile sweetly and expose a breast in her brief scenes, but she could still argue that she gets better treatment than Rachael Harris, who plays Stu's girlfriend as a nightmarish, one-dimensional bitch, screeching at him relentlessly and turning away whenever he tries to kiss her. The film's retrograde depiction of its women is unfortunate, but any sense of disappointment is fleeting, because the laughs in The Hangover continue to come thick and fast, right up to, and including, the memorable closing credits.