Hangover, The: Todd Phillips’ Rude, Rowdy Comedy

Given the choice between “Land of the Lost” and “The Hangover,” I’d take the latter, the rude and rowdy comedy from director Todd Phillips, who makes sort of a comeback with this raunchy, consistently funny movie after the disappointing “School for Scoundrels,” in 2006.

 

Which movie will win the box-office race?  “Land of the Lost” and “The Hangover” are released on the same day, June 5, and go after the same demographics (more or less).  Judging by the response of journalists (not the best crowd for broad  summer comedies, and I include myself in that category), which was strong with a steady stream of loud laughs, “The Hangover” may prove to have longer legs (to use Variety’s jargon) than other comedies this summer. Positive word-of-mouth should definitely help keep the picture at the multi-plexes. 

 

Before Judd Apatow became Hollywood’s “King of Comedy,” surrounded by a cohort of writers and actors, Todd Phillips promised to dominate the comedy genre (specifically the buddy-buddy type) after helming “Old School,” the 2003 movie which developed a cult following and that, among other things, catapulted Will Ferrell to major stardom; Ferrell now plays the lead in the rival movie, “Land of the Lost.”. 

 

After seeing so many movies set in Vegas, our Capital of Crass, you may think this particular location and its stories have been exhausted.  And indeed, at first sight, the “The Hangover,” about a bachelor party gone awry, feels like a patchwork, borrowing ideas and characters from “Three Men and a Cradle” (the French comedy that was remade into English as “Three Men and a Baby”) and other male comedies. There are three amigos and there’s a crying baby (in a closet, though, not in a stroller).  Just look at the poster, which suggests Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson of yesteryear. 

 

But trust me, there’s much more to this ruthless comedy, a raucously twisted “whatever-happens-in-Vegas” adventure with a foul language that more than justifies its R-rating.  In addition to an absent groom, not to mention a missing tooth, there’s a tiger that belongs to Mike Tyson, wandering chickens in the lush hotel, unexpected renditions of Phil Collins’ pop tunes, and outrageous words that may become part of popculture lore.

 

Two days before his wedding, Doug (Justin Bartha) drives to the Sin City of Vegas with his two buddies Phil and Stu (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helmes) and his future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifiankis) for a blowout bachelor party, one to outdo and outshine all others.  But after a wild night, when the three men wake up the next morning with pounding headaches, they can’t remember a thing; they suffer from a combo of hangover with a touch of collective amnesia; all they can see is their trashed luxury hotel-suite and realize that their groom is nowhere to be found.   With no clue about what happened, and no time to waste, the trio must retrace all of their decisions (mostly bad) from the night before in order to figure out where things went wrong, very wrong.  The goal is to find Doug quietly and get him back to L.A. in time for the planned ceremony.

 

The ensuing tale could be described as a comedy of chaos and disorder, both physical and mental, based on the premise that the more the trio digs and uncovers, the more they realize the deep trouble they’re in.

 

The first act recalls the Matthew Broderick 1980s comedy, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  Before Doug is about to marry Tracy (Sasha Barrese), her protective father Sid (“Arrested Development” Jeffrey Tambor) gives his son-in-law the keys to his convertible for his desirable trip to Vegas.  He says he has “only” two conditions. They are the kinds of contingencies that we viewers know cannot—and should not–be met, or else there no comedy.  The first condition is that Doug’s chums Phil and Stu do not drive his luxurious car, and the second is that Tracy’s brother Alan (Zach Galifianakis) be prevented at all costs from drinking or gambling; Alan has been banned from coming within 100 feet of a school.

 

The script is credited to Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, whose previous works include two unimpressive New Line comedies, “Four Christmases” and most recently “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” both of which found an audience.  And though their new scenario is better and smarter than those pictures, I think there’s been a lot of improvisation on the set and that, ultimately, “The Hangover” is a director’s picture in the sense that Philips is in control of the tempo and in charge of the characters and the solid performances of the cast.  Philips deserves at least some credit for the fact that Alan, Stu and Phil always remain likable and sympathetic, even when they are engaged in the craziest, most malicious and ludicrous behavior.

 

The narrative assumes the structure of forward-in-reverse, a classic detective story, in which the “detectives” just happen to suffer from pounding headaches.  Starting with that fateful morning, the trio has to “think smartly,” and then to pursue one potential lead after another that will take them back through every twist and turn and screw-up of the debuachery of the night before—and the place where they last saw Doug.  As viewers, we are willingly and joyously taking the ride along with them. The beginning of the story lures us in one direction, before stopping to swing another way. We never really know what to expect, because every subplot is out of left field, and scenes often seem to come out of nowhere.  But it all fits together in the end, and for a comedy, the movie is much more than just a series of disconnected set pieces.  Almost every action scene moves the story forward, pushing it into overdrive until it all gets explained the end.

 

Like all good road comedies, the humor resides in the stops along the way of retrieving Doug, and the steps taken by Stu and Alan after they wake up from a wildly crazy night.  If the last reel is not as funny as the previous ones, it’s perhaps because the filmmakers feel the pressure to tie everything up rather neatly. 

Even so, they make sure to add new wacky characters and new sight gags, some of which are daring and even audacious.   We’ve seen chubby guys (Jack Black) in tightie-whities or semi-naked on screen before, but the movie ups the ante when Zach Galifianakis appears in a jock strap. 


Other characters include Rob Riggle of “The Daily Show,” who appears as Officer Franklin, not exactly one of Vegas’ finest but still talented with a stun gun. Ken Jeong (“Pineapple Express”) is the unhinged Mr. Chow intent on revenge for offenses none of the men even vaguely recalls.  Comedy club headliner Mike Epps (“Soul Man”) involves the three in a subplot of mistaken identity that could cost the guys a lot of money they don’t have.  But the most dramatic encounter is with Mike Tyson, who appears as himself,  taking a playful jab at his badass image while performing an “air drum” number.  Remarkably, Tracy’s father Sid is the only man who remains calm, considering he is the father of the bride and also the owner of a classic Mercedes he loans to his future son-in-law.

 

You could charge the comedy with being mostly male-driven and you would be right.   There are three minor, rather passive female roles.  Doug’s increasingly frantic fiancee Tracy, who’s engulfed in wedding preparations back in L.A., is holding her breath for she hasn’t heard from her groom-to-be in 48 hours; whenever Tracy calls, she gets voicemail or a hurried response from Phil assuring her that everything is OK.   Heather Graham plays Jade, a quirky stripper-escort with a sweet disposition and a relaxed point of view on love, who might also be the wife of a dentist who’s missing a front tooth. Stu’s domineering girlfriend Melissa (Rachael Harris of “Notes from the Underbelly”),  held at bay on the other end of a long-distance cell connection, is frustrated for having lost control of her man for the first time in their relationship.

 

Please stay till the end of the closing credits, which include a couple of hilariously shocking and funny images.

 

Cast

Phil – Bradley Cooper
Stu – Ed Helms
Alan – Zach Galifianakis
Doug – Justin Bartha
Jade – Heather Graham
Tracy – Sasha Barrese
Sid – Jeffrey Tambor
Mr. Chow – Ken Jeong
Melissa – Rachel Harris
Mike Tyson – Himself
Black Doug – Mike Epps

Credits

A Warner  release and presentation in association with Legendary Pictures of a Green Hat Films production.

Produced by Todd Phillips, Dan Goldberg.

Executive producers, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, William Fay, Scott Budnick, Chris Bender, J.C. Spink.

Co-producers, David A. Siegel, Jeffrey Wetzel.

Directed by Todd Phillips.

Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore.
Camera: Lawrence Sher.

Editor: Debra Neil-Fisher.

Music: Christophe Beck; music supervisors, George Drakoulias, Randall Poster.

Production designer: Bill Brzeski.

Supervising art director, Andrew Max Cahn.

Art director: A. Todd Holland.

Set decorator: Danielle Berman.

Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach.

Sound: Lee Orloff

MPAA Rating: R.

Running time: 98 Minutes

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