June 14, 2009

The Hangover (6/14/09)

Lettergrade: B+

Some of my least favorite scenes that typically appear in movies these days are when a bunch of characters sit around getting drunk or high. It's not that I don't mind throwing back a few drinks myself every now and again, but when big sections of a major motion picture are spent in endless, unfocused scenes like that... well, it's just the most uninteresting, low-brow kind of junk in the world to me, seemingly existing only for cheap-laugh value and shameless youth appeal.

Fortunately The Hangover, a really funny movie, skips right over these scenes entirely, and jumps instead to the devastation of the following morning. The characters remember precious little of what happened during the previous night's bachelor party, but one is now missing an incisor, their 4200 dollar a night villa at Caesar's Palace is completely trashed, and somehow live chickens, an adult tiger, and a baby of unknown origin all wound up taking residence there. Quickly, the survivors discover that the groom-to-be is missing too, and so our trio of heroes have no choice but to use whatever clues they can in order to piece together just what the hell happened and how the wreckage got as bad as it did.

I don't think I would like frat-boy centric director Todd Phillips much if I knew him in real life, but between Old School, Road Trip and this, I must admit that he's made some really funny movies. In Hangover, much like Old School, he's putting grown men who have refused to grow up in situations with respectable adults who desperately want to recapture the recklessness of their youth. You can criticize the guy for not going after the most intellectually lofty material, but at least his body of work has a running theme. Suck on that, Ron Howard.

Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, and Justin Bartha are all really entertaining as the leads, but it is cult comic Zach Galifianakis who walks away with pretty much every scene. As he does in his standup, he makes every moment you spend with him extra sweaty and uncomfortable. I really admired a lot of the songs they selected for the movie too, particularly a scene near the end where "Iko Iko" is played and an always welcome appearance by "The Dan Band," who have popped up in most of Phillips' movies.

Not all of the movie works, however. In particular, I did not care for the Japanese mobster guy who somewhat drives the middle part of the screenplay (although his entrance is pretty priceless). The last third of the picture similarly falls into somewhat predictable territory, but then I suppose that this is a big studio comedy after all, and escaping a formulaic climax isn't always possible. Nevertheless, enough of it does work that I really enjoyed myself: It is one of those flicks that's filled with so many bizarre, random moments that it's hard not to laugh. I suspect it may not hold up if I watch it in my living room several months down the line, but in a packed theater full of people who are really amped up to see the flick, it is almost therapeutic.

The film was reportedly shot in about 15 days, further evidence that a film need not a ridiculous shooting schedule or an insane amount of resources in order to wind up any good.

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