'The Hangover' Is Low Art

Warner Bros. Pictures

City Pulse | June 1, 2009
To its credit, The Hangover transfers to the audience the smelly, still inebriated state that the title promises. Director Todd Phillips (Old School) is nothing if not relentless in his pursuit of a full, mixed sack of masculine stupidity at the hand of drink, drugs, and the dubious charms of Las Vegas. In the interest of their soon-to-be-wedded pal Doug (Justin Bartha), best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), let future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) come along for the ride to Vegas where the circumstances of their bachelor party celebrations spiral out of control. A drunken night of childish carousing leaves the group missing their prime member Doug and sends the absentminded trio on a humor-riddled mission to reconstruct the night's events and locate Doug in time to get him to his wedding on time. A kidnapped tiger belonging to Mike Tyson, brushes with the police and criminals alike, and a missing tooth for Phil are just some of the painful humiliations that our motley group endure on their way to a clearer understanding of their transgressions. Gratuitous sex, pratfalls, and goofy violence come with the territory in this over-the-top guys' comedy. A word to the wise, stay for the closing credit sequence to see a droll photo collage of outtake events from the lost hours of darkness.

Getting blind drunk in a strange place is a recipe for disaster without the addition of the "roofies" that wannabe metrosexual Alan slips into shots of Jagermeister for he and his buddies -- on a Las Vegas hotel rooftop no less. When Alan slices open the palm of his hand in preparation for joining as blood brothers with the other guys, the filmmakers set up the kind of grace under physical pressure that the characters, vis-a-vis, the audience will endure through car crashes, punch-outs, and sexually blank nudity.

If there's a moral to the story, it is that drugs and drink don't mix. It's not a message that audiences will extract as a prickly needle from the haystack of situational (read random) comic set-pieces that the filmmakers play like trump cards from the bottom of a stacked deck, but it does anchor the film's narrative boat.

The Hangover is a movie based almost entirely on comic surprise. When our hapless overgrown boys wake up in their expensive Vegas hotel-suite-turned-trailer-park, the detailed destruction that inexplicably took place the night before is stupefying. An enormous pyramid of empty beer bottles overseen by a confused rooster is a mere intro to a labyrinth of unexplained circumstance. An abandoned infant and a bathroom-ensconced tiger deliver an immediacy to the plight of three guys that you'd be just as likely to meet at a bar in LA or New York.

Contrasting character archetypes between Stu (a downtrodden, nerdy dentist with a mysteriously missing tooth), Phil (the implacable playboy) and Alan (an unpredictable jester) give the comedy a modern take on a Marx Brothers form where outrageous sequences merely serve to frame the mental gymnastics and tortured physical condition of the comedians. Secondary characters enter at varying degrees of antagonistic composure as the guys retrace their steps from the night before toward finding Doug. Mike Tyson does some memorable screentime, dispensing an off-key singing performance that packs a punch, and Heather Graham takes the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype to a whole new level.

But the supporting cast scene-stealing award goes to Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow, a flamboyantly gay gangster with an axe to grind over being nakedly abducted into a car trunk and having $80,000 stolen from him. Mr. Chow's language is hilariously profane, and makes audible the twisted logic of screenwriters in tune with the internet era of diabolically raunchy ideas. Think of it as low art executed as a high ideal. It is funny.

Rated R. 99 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
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