Three men wake up in their Vegas hotel room—no, make that their luxurious, $4,000-a-night Caesar’s Palace suite. The carnage is complete: Piles of empty beer cans and bottles. A smoldering leather chair. Plastic blow-up dolls in the Jacuzzi. An ottoman hanging from the ceiling. A wandering chicken. A tiger in the bathroom. And somebody put a baby in a corner.
Sounds like one heck of a bachelor party.
Stu (Ed Helms), a dentist, is missing a tooth. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is wearing a hospital bracelet. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has no pants, though, unfortunately, this is not so uncommon an occurrence.
A problem: Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom, is missing.
A bigger problem: None of the other three remembers what happened last night.
The Hangover, a ribald, R-rated comedy, follows the trio of Phil, Stu and Alan as they try to piece together the previous night, find Doug and get back to Los Angeles in time for his wedding.
Think you’ve had some wild nights of partying? You’ve got nothing on these guys. Their exploits also included a shotgun wedding, a stolen police car, Mike Tyson and an unruly Asian man called Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).
Each scene is more outrageous than the last, but there is a purpose to it all. Each one brings with it something new, either shedding light on the night before or muddying the picture even more.
Within this framework, director Todd Phillips (Old School) and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) find room for character moments. Unlike so many other comedies, this is not just a series of funny scenes tenuously strung together.
Phil, a schoolteacher, married with a son, has grown bored with his life and sees the Vegas trip as his first chance for excitement in a long, long time. Stu is a meek sort on the verge of proposing to Melissa (Rachael Harris), his controlling girlfriend. Man-boy Alan, Doug’s new brother-in-law, is just plain weird, but there’s something touching about his awkward, prepared speech about Phil, Stu and Doug joining his “wolf pack.”
The cast boasts no stars but a trio of actors on the rise.
Cooper has been consistently good in supporting roles in movies like Wedding Crashers, Failure to Launch and this year’s He’s Just Not That Into You, and now shows true leading man potential. Phil is the best man and driving force behind the bachelor party, so it follows naturally that Cooper fulfills the same role within the ensemble.
Helms, known to fans of The Office and The Daily Show, gets his first major film role and provides the movie with its emotional center. Anyone can see Melissa is an awful human being who will ruin Stu’s life if they get married—maybe she already has. Stu defends her—he even makes excuses for the time she cheated on him while on a cruise. In subtle bits of acting by Helms, we can see him trying to make himself believe what he says as much as he tries to convince others. The multitalented Helms also gets to show off his fine singing voice.
The scene-stealer is the bearded, potbellied Galifianakis, a comedian who finally has an acting role to rival his bizarre standup act. Did I mention Alan is weird? He’s been ordered to stay away from schools and children, which seems creepy until you realize he essentially is an overgrown adolescent. He also develops something of a man-crush on Phil and just might be a genius. The key to Galifianakis making the weirdness work is that Alan thinks he’s the coolest guy in the group, and in this increasingly outlandish scenario, he’s often the most rational. It’s a clever piece of writing and acting.
Heather Graham, Mike Epps, the always wonderful Jeffrey Tambor and, yes, Mike Tyson are solid in support.
The Hangover earns its R rating, but it’s a good-natured romp and there’s a sweetness about the bond between Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug. Powered by the abundant chemistry of its three leads and a story that surprises at every turn, The Hangover just might be the funniest movie of the decade.
(Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material. 105 minutes.)