Even a formula can exceed expectations now and then. That’s what I discovered watching The Hangover, a film about, of all things, a foursome who travels to Vegas on their bachelor party. After the wedding montage, we cut to the disheveled group and Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper, looking like a cross between Ralph Fiennes and Brian Phelps of “Mark & Brian In the Morning”) makes the call (yes, that one) to the groom’s wife, “We fucked up.” Immediately the hackles go up.
This is the customary set up for a bachelor-party-gone-haywire comedy, in the style of Peter Berg’s equally-ludicrous Very Bad Things, followed by the flashback to two days ago. What transpires from there can only be described as a series of attempts to keep upping the ante on gross-outs, one liners, animal gags, and slapstick that doesn’t add up to any kind of elaborate comedy. But I’m not even attempting to compare Todd Phillips, writer and director of Road Trip, to Billy Wilder.
The story you know. The characters seem somewhat familiar, but each with his own deviation. Phil is the responsible private schoolteacher, who happens to be morally flexible enough to give his pre-teen students a share of the winnings. Stu Price (Ed Helms) is the yuppie dentist (or so we think) and his absolute harpy of a girlfriend, Melissa (Tracy Garner). The bride’s brother, Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis), is a certifiable pedophile—opening a door to unusual, if unsavory, jokes which, in a film replete with absurdity, stop oddly shy of pure evil. Doug Billings (Justin Bartha), the groom, is hardly in the movie. He’s effectively the MacGuffin of the film. By the time they do find him, it takes a beat or two before you realize he’s been without food or water for 48 hours.
Everything is set into motion when, after taking Jaegermeister shots on the rooftop of Caesar’s Palace, the four awaken to a tornado of peculiarities strewn about their $4200-a-night suite. It isn’t superlative slapstick, but it is oddly watchable if only for the perverse curiosity toward how much more ridiculous can circumstances get. When the valet pulls up with a police cruiser instead of the vintage Mercedes they were driving, it might in any other film be entirely unbelievable.. but we left reality when Stu first appeared with a sweater draped over his oxford longsleeve, Louis Winthorpe-style. Instead of a false crisis, the guys work out a creative solution with the police that ends up hurting them anyway, but at least one fat, blonde-haired kid gets his revenge. Confusing? It won’t make much more sense if I describe the context. Either you’ll go with it, or you’ll rent Some Like it Hot.
The funniest sequence in the entire film, here borrowing prior art for parody rather than vacancy of ideas, arises out of a mishap whereby the Chinese man in the trunk of the Benz—don’t ask—turns out to be a gangster and demands $80,000 they allegedly stole from him, in exchange for Doug, whom he has kidnapped. Alan finds a gambling how-to book, and inspired by the film Rain Man, the scene cuts to Alan dressed in a grey suit descending an escalator, accompanied by Phil, looking like Raymond and Charlie Babbitt—set to that catchy cover of “Iko Iko” by the Belle Stars. We next see him at a table mumbling to himself as mathematical formulae swirl around the frame. It was heartening to see that most of the film’s target audience understood this reference. It would be a misplaced gag in a film directed at a younger audience such as Bender and Spink’s American Pie.
Question: What do Mike Tyson’s tiger, a chicken, a horrible, effeminate, Chinese stereotype naked in a car trunk, a stolen police car, a baby, a missing tooth and Phil Collins’ music all have in common? Answer: Nothing, but within 100 minutes this movie finds a way to juxtapose and explain all… well, except for the chicken.
The Hangover • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 100 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material. • Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures