Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: The Hangover

Although I spent the weekend away from the web (with limited wireless access, I didn't even try), I did catch three recent popcorn flicks at the movieplex—an admitted rarity for me. Here's some thoughts on the first of the three... Spoilers follow.

The Hangover is what it is. If you've seen the trailer, you know precisely what you're in for. Two frat guys and an oddball brother-in-law take their friend on a bachelor party in Sin City. Bad shit happens. None of the survivors of the bender can remember what they did when they wake up the next morning to a chicken, a tiger and no sign of the would-be groom. It's a story told at backyard barbecues and reenacted on sitcoms that you suspect has never actually happened.

The jokes come so fast and loose that the duds don't really factor. Ed Helms' Stu is a variation on Andy Bernard: cuckolded by his fiancee and repressed by his middle-class life. Bradley Cooper is a little too convincing as douchebag Phil.
Zach Galifianakis (from the short-lived Comedy Central show "Dog Bites Man") is particularly well-suited to the role of an infantile pedophile, Alan, who doesn't know the difference between Ecstasy and Rufinol. Despite some truly disturbing "quirks," Galifianakis manages to make Alan seem harmless. He just wants to be one of the guys, after all.

There's never any real suspense in The Hangover. In a different film—not necessarily better, but more serious-minded—Alan's desperation for acceptance, his naivete and his hinted-at pedophilia would lead to something worse than short-term amnesia. Going in, the audience knows nothing truly dire will happen to these guys. Tiger maulings, run-ins with sociopathic drug dealers and heat stroke won't be fatal events here.

In that sense, The Hangover falls neatly into the fantasy Las Vegas of the ad campaigns. Bad things may happen to you there but, as a tourist, you can expect to leave relatively unscathed and with a really awesome story to tell your friends. The Hangover's conclusion falls right in line with the endings of Indecent Proposal, Vegas Vacation or last year's 21. As refreshing as it would be to see this familiar story get a perverse twist
—imagine if the groom died after 2 days of exposure to the wild temperature fluctuations of the desert city—the film was never meant to be anything other than a funny retread of a familiar story.

On it's own relatively modest terms, The Hangover works. It's the funniest straight comedy I've seen in a long time. Watch it with a few of your bros and make sure to stay for the credits.

Rating: 7 / 10

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