Over the past few years, quality comedy has been dominated by films either from the Judd Apatow camp or from those attempting to duplicate the Apatow formula. These films invariably deal with human interactions and relationships. In short, they are a mash-up of comedy and romance into a new form of romantic comedy that marries the vulgar and the heartfelt in a way that hits home in a way not seen before.
Now along comes The Hangover, a film that deals with some human interactions, but is as far from romance as can be. Instead of mashing comedy and romance, we get a blend of comedy and mystery in a film that proves to be very funny as it keeps you guessing as to just what happened. It is proof that comedy can exist in other forms on the modern screen and still deliver the goods.
For my money Apatow has directed or produced the best comedies of the past few years. Films like I Love You Man, Knocked Up, Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are movies I can pretty much watch anytime. On the other hand, we also get "comedies" like Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, What Happens in Vegas, and The Love Guru. It is almost enough to shake one's faith in the viability of the genre. However, moving past the hyperbole, comedies are very hit and miss with so many landing on miss that when we get something like The Hangover, we may not know whether to welcome it or not.
As The Hangover begins, we find Phil (Bradley Cooper) on the phone telling Tracy (Sasha Barrese) that things got a little out of hand at the bachelor party and they lost her fiance, Doug (Justin Bartha). All I can say is that it must have been one heck of a night. The remaining party-goers, Allen (Zach Galifianakis) and Stu (Ed Helms), stand in the background, none of them looking all that good under the bright sun of the desert outside of Las Vegas. Then we cut to three days earlier.
Doug is getting the final fitting done for his tuxedo in preparation for his wedding. With him is Allan, his fiance's odd brother. The two share a moment as they discuss the upcoming bachelor party. They then head off in his soon-to-be father-in-law's prize Mercedes convertible. They pick up Phil as he finishes up his last class (he's a school teacher), followed by Stu, a dentist and the submissive in his current relationship. Together, the quartet head off for Vegas.
They get to Vegas and begin their celebrations. Following a couple of shots of Jager, we transition to the following morning. They awaken in their hotel room, which has been trashed, to find a burned and smoking couch, a chicken, a missing mattress, and a tiger in the bathroom. On top of that, none of them have any memory of what transpired the night before and Doug is nowhere to be found. Oh yeah, there is also a baby in the closet.
Yes, The Hangover is a comedy, but it is also a rather engrossing mystery. The trio begin trying to piece together the night. With no memories they need to find Doug, figure out how the tiger got in the room, learn where Stu lost a tooth, and why did the valet bring them a police cruiser?
Off they go, gathering clues from the room, an ER doctor, Mike Tyson' security tapes, and a wedding chapel. The clues lead them on an adventure all over Vegas. They have a close encounter with Tyson, meet an angry Chinese guy (discovered in their trunk), and they even get to meet Stu's new stripper, uh, escort wife, Jade (Heather Graham). Each stop brings more laughs than the one prior.
In the wrong hands this movie could have been an utter disaster. The funny thing is, who thought these hands were the right hands? Director Todd Phillips does not have a great track record. I mean, I was not that crazy about earlier outings like Old School or School for Scoundrels, neither of which could have predicted what he pulled off here. Likewise, the writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore had not shown anything like this with credits like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Four Christmases.
The Hangover could just as easily become a series of SNL or MadTV sketches, which only exist to get to the next scene. Rather than taking the easy route, we get a script that is written rather than pieced together from the leftovers of other films. It grows and develops as we move along. The plot develops organically, much like the comedy which allowed to develop organically. This is a seriously funny movie, something I was hoping for but not expecting.
Now, as solid as the writing and directing are, the cast is what brings it all together and makes it shine. They are actors that you can believe could be friends. Have you ever watched a movie where one or two of the group don't seem to fit and strain the edges of believability? Not so here. Yes, the characters fill different roles, but they seem right together. Bradley Cooper leads the bunch and is the funny ladies man, while Ed Helms plays the reserved straight man. Then there is Zach Galifianakis as the odd man out and newest member. Galifianakis easily steals the show and is very, very funny. Justin Bartha is fine as well, but he does not have a lot of screen time.
As good as the leads are, the supporting players are just as good. We cannot go without mentioning Mike Tyson. The man is funny! I cannot make any claim of being a fan, but he is perfect for this. Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow is very funny, he is not a guy you want to mess with! Heather Graham steps into the stripper role and comes across as quite likable in a role that could have been cliche. Funny all the way around.
Bottom line. This was considerably funnier than I was expecting. Simply put, this is the funniest film I have seen in some time. It is finely crafted, well performed, and closes with the perfect ending. If you want to laugh, this is the movie for you. Plus, any movie that begins with a Danzig song has got to be good.