Friday, June 5, 2009

The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover is the kind of effortlessly entertaining, explosively inappropriate, R-rated summer comedy that provides plenty of laughs and then leaves without a trace. There are no quotable lines or priceless moments that will last much past seeing the thing, but it’s plenty of fun in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that it has a fun premise. Three guys take their friend (Justin Bartha) to Vegas for his bachelor party only to wake up the next morning to find that they have no memory of the night before and have lost the groom.

It’s a great hook, sending the three guys through Vegas on a desperate search for their friend, along the way running in to all kinds of strange characters that reveal pieces of the puzzle of their night. It doesn’t hurt that the three guys are played by very funny actors embodying specific types of modern male dysfunction. There’s Bradley Cooper, handsome, fun-loving, and rebelling against middle-class married-life suburbia, a real Fight-Club type. There’s Ed Helms, a gangly, nerdy, cautious dentist, under the thumb of a suspicious, bossy girlfriend. Then there’s Zach Galifianakis, the loopiest, goofiest of the bunch. His face is hidden behind a Grizzly-Adams beard. His belly folds over his belt. His eyes are often hidden behind large sunglasses or a dazed glaze. He’s awkward and uncomfortable to watch but completely funny in the way he delivers the strangest lines (he has to be back in town for the Jonas Brothers concert and must stay 200 yards from all Chuck-E-Cheeses).

The three guys tear through town running into a baby, a tiger, a stripper, cops, doctors, gangsters and even Mike Tyson in their search for their friend and to find out what, exactly caused the mayhem they discover. Why is a mattress speared on a statue? How’d they get that car? Whose baby is that? Who ordered those custom mugs and hats? What’s that chicken doing? Dude, where's our car?

The movie has no weight – I never really cared about the characters – but there’s enough humor and hot air to float the movie to the finish line, even if it starts to deflate a bit in the third act. Even though I didn’t care about the people, they were still likeable creations, and there’s enough curiosity factor to each new development – how’ll they get out of this? – to sustain the freewheeling energy for most of the time. Director Todd Phillips has a fine cast (including support from Jeffery Tambor, Heather Graham, Rob Riggle, Mike Epps, and Ken Jeong) and uses them well. He also knows his way around the dude humor of the concept, building on his past experiences with Old School and the like. Phillips guides the movie with a steady, sure hand, knowing when to punch up the humor and knowing when to keep it low-key. This isn’t going to be an especially memorable picture – its effect is already wearing off and I’ll have mostly forgotten it within a year or two – but it’s sure to be a staple of late-night TV.

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