Friday, May 29, 2009

What Happened Last Night? I Have Such A Hangover.

Two days before his wedding, Doug (Justin Bartha) and three friends drive to Las Vegas for a wild and memorable stag party. In fact, when the three groomsmen wake up the next morning, they can't remember a thing; nor can they find Doug. With little time to spare , the three hazy pals try to re-trace their steps and find Doug so they can get him back to Los Angeles in time to walk down the aisle in The Hangover

Two days before he ties the knot with his rich and gorgeous fiancee, blandly affable Doug (Bartha) takes off for a brief Las Vegas sojourn with three groomsmen: His two best buddies -- Phil (Bradley Cooper), a cynical and sardonic high school teacher, and Stu (Ed Helms), a dentist usually kept on a tight leash by his nagging girlfriend (a truly monstrous Rachel Harris) -- and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Doug's future brother-in-law, a lumpy lunk who's all too eager to befriend and belong. Even with odd-man-out Alan along for the ride, the bachelor-partiers enjoy a wild night of booze-fueled revelry in Sin City. The next morning, however, three of them awaken in their posh hotel suite with only the haziest of memories about the previous evening's events, and no explanation at all for the snarling tiger in their bathroom and the crying baby in their closet. Worse, they have no earthly idea what happened to the inexplicably missing Doug. Their journey brings them in contact with, among others, Taser-wielding cops, angry Asian gamblers, a perky stripper (Heather Graham) with newly forged ties to Stu, and an unexpectedly angry but not infinitely patient Mike Tyson. Early on, it's revealed that the revelers weren't merely drunk, they were drugged while cutting an antic swath through the Vegas night world. Oddly enough, that's just enough to anchor the pic in something like real-world logic, even as the plot takes ever more outlandish twists and turns. In fact, it's tempting to read The Hangover as a wild-and-crazy spin on a scenario that would have been entirely suitable for a deadly serious '40s film noir. The humor is unapologetically raunchy -- a closing-credits photo montage includes some borderline NC-17 naughtiness -- and sporadically brutal. Helmer Phillips sustains an overall tone of anything-goes swagger that he neatly subverts with steadily mounting desperation and ego-deflating humiliations. Throughout it all, however, Cooper, Helms and even Galifianakis (whose character comes closest to caricature) remain sufficiently disciplined to refrain from going too far over the top. Bartha does well in a thankless role, but he's simply not visible long enough to make as much impact. On the other hand, Ken Jeong makes the absolute most of his limited screen time as an effete antagonist whose mincing trash talk likely will be quoted extensively by the pic's fans. Jokey references to "Rain Man" and "A Beautiful Mind" are amusing, but not nearly as funny as the pic's self-aware reference to the cliched notion that there's nothing as hilarious as a pratfall by a fat man. I loved Fat Jesus. A comedy that's funny and naughty. This is a franchise. Mike Tyson has a career in movies!

Cooper is terrific (and can deliver a line) and frankly, it is clear that director Phillips has a wonderful light touch. The character of Alan could have been Jack Black obnoxious but instead, it is a gently-tuned highlighted performance. Helms is ideally cast and Mike Tyson is hysterical. Also along for the noticeably well-shot (by Lawrence Sher) raucous ride is Heather Graham as a sweetly disposed pole dancer whom Helms has apparently married, and Ken Jeong as the certifiably unhinged, vengeance-seeking Mr. Chow. With Doug off screen most of the time, Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis must carry the story, and all three actors do strong work playing different male archetypes, remaining sympathetic no matter how foolishly they behave. Helms articulates Stu’s henpecked timidity without reducing the character to a one-note wimp. And although Galifianakis has the toughest job of the three leads, he makes Alan more than just a stereotypical weirdo-loner, turning him into a truly pathetic and vulnerable man-child. Without revealing any spoilers, suffice it to say that The Hangover gets excellent comic mileage from unexpected plot twists, which sometimes demands hairpin tonal shifts or peculiar celebrity cameos. Still, the filmmakers keep the proceedings mostly grounded in reality so that the stranger revelations still feel anchored in believable human interactions. The screenplay by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore is perfect, with all the question marks effectively answered. Part of the film’s strength is making it all seem charming rather than horrifying and here it works perfectly. The best summer comedy so far. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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