Three hapless groomsmen (Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis) regain consciousness after a devastating Vegas stag night to discover that the groom is AWOL and that they cant remember a thing about the night before.
Director Todd Phillips scored his biggest hit with 2003’s ribald, R-rated romp Old School, a film that proved beyond question — as if we didn’t know it already — that the spectacle of grown men communing with their inner adolescent and behaving like frat boys is a recipe for comedy gold.
Phillips treads broadly similar ground with The Hangover (written by Lucas and Moore of Four Christmases ‘fame’) but, ironically for a movie that celebrates the male of the species’ innate ability to screw things up and act like a complete idiot, he exhibits a great deal more maturity than he did with its likable but hit-and-miss forebear.
On the face of it, The Hangover doesn’t look particularly promising, nor, to be honest, terribly original. The ‘bachelor party gone wrong’ is a well-established comedy sub-genre and the prospect of yet another bunch of shit-faced yuppies getting into scrapes with hookers is hardly one to savour. Mercifully, and very astutely, The Hangover avoids the clichés — the majority of them, at least — by starting where most movies of this ilk finish: in the aftermath of the ruinous carousing rather than the preamble to it. In fact, sparing us the gratuitous party scenes is not just good sense but an intrinsic element of the narrative since, thanks to a self-administered mickey that turns out to be roofies rather than E, the central characters have no more idea of what went on the night before than we do.
Following a brief establishing set-up, the action kicks off when a trio of groomsmen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) wake up in the apocalyptic wreckage of their Las Vegas hotel suite to discover an abandoned baby in the closet, Mike Tyson’s tiger in the bathroom and the inexplicable absence of the groom himself (Justin Bartha), who is due to get hitched in 24 hours’ time. From that point on the film becomes a twisted, and unerringly hilarious, detective story as the hapless ‘worst men’, their memories wiped clean by date-rape drugs, have to piece together the events of the previous evening, track down their missing buddy and get him to the church on time. The trouble is, they have very little evidence to go on save for a missing front tooth, a collection of hospital wristbands and a wedding ring on very much the wrong finger.
The pacing is furiously fast and the laughs keep coming as our increasingly desperate heroes are assaulted out of the blue by characters and events they have no hope of comprehending. Rarely has that sinking, morning-after realisation that things are much, much worse than they seem been better evoked than when a valet parking attendant rolls up not in Bartha’s future father-in-law’s vintage Merc but a stolen police car. Truthfully, the film abounds with such moments, most of them vastly more raucous. And, true to form, Phillips delivers at least one incident that will have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief, even while you’re laughing your ass off. As for bizzaro celebrity cameos, they don’t come much more off-the-wall than Mike Tyson singing along to Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight and smashing Galifianakis full in the face at the climax of the iconic drum fill.
What really gives The Hangover wings, though, rendering it every bit as endearing as it is profanely funny, is the chemistry between the leads — Cooper as the group’s cocksure alpha male; Helms as the neurotic whiner, and Galifianakis, in a star-making turn, as the token beardy weirdy. Their guy-centric sparring is so effortless, a direct product of their characters and the relationship between them, it seems almost inconceivable that it originated in a script. Of course it did, and full credit to Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (with input from Phillips) for that — no matter how crammed full of side-splitting set-pieces a movie is, if the characters aren’t convincing or likable you’ve got nothing. In The Hangover they are both, and the film benefits on that score from them being relatively unknown. A state of affairs that, on this evidence, is not likely to last.
A furiously paced, inventive and flat-out hilarious take on a tried-and-tested formula. An exemplary bromantic comedy that doesnt sacrifice heart in pursuit of laughs, maintaining plenty of the former and a superabundance of the latter.