The reason why it will do this can probably be found in looking back at that Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson buddy flick, as most of the elements of success are there; raunchy humor aimed squarely at men (not teenaged boys), a smart, biting script, and tremendous chemistry amongst the lead actors. In a summer where we as an audience have had our intelligence and sensibilities insulted like no other since I started writing for this site, "The Hangover" is a bottle of Excedrin Migraine Formula relief to us all.
I had my doubts early on. I've seen comedies hyped before that I found to be mediocre ("Superbad" jumps to the top of that list...sorry to tell that to all the McLovin fans out there). And quite frankly, I was thinking I was about to fall into the same trap at the start of "The Hangover". We get to meet the four guys who are about to embark on the Bachelor Party From Hell: Groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha, Nic Cage's goofy sidekick in the "National Treasure" movies) is the epitome of a nice, boring guy, about to head out to Vegas with his buddies a couple of days before his wedding to the rich, sweet Tracy.
Tracy's father (an excellent Jeffrey Tambor) has him take along two of his prized possessions, his Mercedes Benz convertible, and his not-too-bright son Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Guess which one is more "prized"? They also pick up Doug's two best friends; rakish school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), and henpecked dentist Stu (Ed Helms).
All of this exposition takes the first 25 minutes of the movie, and by the time they are up on the roof at their Vegas hotel hoisting shots of Jaegermeister, I'm thinking I've already seen this 1,000 times, and cursing The Hype for suckering me into this soon-to-be-Spergeoned film.
And then I realize that I've just gone through the equivalent of that long, slow ride up the first hill for the Magnum XL 200 at Cedar Point, and the wildness is just beginning, and won't stop until the ride is safely back at the gate.
Suddenly, we are looking at a trashed suite, and it is obviously the Morning After. A chair is smoldering, furniture is overturned, liquor bottles and beer cans are everywhere, a woman whose face we don't see walks out of the room while putting her clothes back on...oh yeah...and a chicken is walking on the counter. Alan staggers to the bathroom...and in mid-relief sees a tiger in the room. What the Hell has happened?
No one knows. Phil wakes up with his head on fire, while Stu wakes up to find that he's missing a tooth. None of the three have ANY idea what went down over the last 12 hours. Worst of all, they can't find Doug. From that point, it is a hilarious mystery/road trip as the three of them try to re-create their exploits in order to find out what happened to Doug. Their adventures involve stolen police cars, lactating strippers, an abandoned baby, a crazed Chinese businessman, and Mike Tyson. I really can't elaborate more on any of these developments, as unraveling the mystery is almost as much fun as watching the reactions of the participants.
Needless to say, it all works perfectly. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have put together a fast paced, quirky, inventive, hilarious, and often tasteless script, and director Todd Phillips puts it all together seamlessly in perhaps his best work since "Old School". Sure, the concept of waking up with a raging hangover and no recollection of the previous night's escapades is something that most people can identify with; but Phillips and company take it in a direction few could ever imagine. It's a perfect set-up for most guys...as I'm sure 95% of us watching it can flash back to when we've had those times when we woke up with a throbbing head, desperately trying to think through the jackhammers going off between our ears to recall what we may have done the night before. "The Hangover" just takes it to a degree of debauchery only dreamed about in our younger years.
None of this would work without the perfect comedic timing and chemistry of Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis. Forget the upcoming idiotic attempt to remake the Three Stooges with Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, and Jim Carrey; we have the best 3 stooges right here as these comic geniuses work flawlessly together. Cooper makes the most out of the role that might have been a more boring straight man in another's hands, as he makes Phil a conniving con man and bad boy; a pretty face with a streak of deviousness that makes all the women swoon, but with enough good intentions to not make him obnoxious. As the ringleader of this ragtag group, he's a natural, and it's easy to see why Cooper was chosen to take on the role of Templeton "Faceman" Peck in the upcoming big screen adaptation of "The A-Team".
Ed Helms creates a character far removed from his previously most known work as the overconfident sycophant Andy Bernard from "The Office". Stu is a lovable loser with no self-confidence, completely dominated by his girlfriend Melissa (Rachael Harris), so much so that he even puts up with her beating him ("only twice!"), her cheating, and her demands to know where he is at every minute of the day. As expected, this is the perfect type of person to "come out of his shell" in these types of movies, and Helms does that in style. As the movie goes along, Stu's backbone starts to solidify, which leads to some very satisfactory scenes, especially at the end.
Zach Galifianakis is an absolute gem in this film, which is quite surprising to me after the way the movie opened. It starts out with Alan being the typical idiotic hanger-on so often seen in these types of films, but as with Phil and Stu, there is a lot more to him than just a fat, hairy, "special" person. Alan absorbs the brunt of the physical comedy (including Mike Tyson's fist and getting tasered in the face), but shows a lot more heart than you'd expect in the comic foil, and it is especially enjoyable later in the film where he re-creates a scene from another famous Vegas movie with Vegas ties (if you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. If not, I refuse to spoil it for you).
There's not much room for anyone else here, but several actors handle their near-cameo roles impressively. This is not a movie that is kind to women, but Heather Graham makes the most of her role as Jade, a stripper/escort that ends up being more than just a party favor at a Vegas wedding chapel. In limited screen time, Graham shows a lot of talent, giving her character more gravis than other actresses could accomplish.
As mentioned, Jeffrey Tambor is almost always fun to watch in any capacity, and he steals every scene he's in as the rich father-of-the-bride ("Now remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except herpes. That sh@& will come back with you!"). Rachael Harris is also hilarious as the uptight hellion who is never happy unless she is making Stu miserable. And Ken Jeong is an over-the-top hoot as Mr. Chow, the effeminate foil to the Lost Boys.
But it is Mike Tyson who really shocks, as both scenes he appears in are bound to become classics. Most of you have probably seen the trailers that showed him prancing about singing Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight", ending with him punching someone. While that is funny, it doesn't begin to show how crazy that entire sequence is. Everyone loves a story of redemption, and few need it more than Tyson, an athlete I've loathed for many a year. But in this? I loved every bit of it.
Put it all together, and you have something quite unexpected. While it is certainly too predictable, outlandish, misogynistic, and juvenile to be a "Great Film", it is certainly something needed in the summer of 2009, a season most noted so far for miserable films and colossal failures: it is Something Worth Seeing.
My Rating: Frank Ryan (3 footballs)