Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review: "The Hangover"

If it's possible to make a brainy raunch flick, then the gang behind "The Hangover" has done it.

The set-up for "The Hangover" is like a thousand movies before it -- a bunch of young guys getting stoned, hooking up with loose women and making fools of themselves. The setting is Las Vegas, with its deliberately amoral motto of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

But rather than belly-flopping into a pool of standard-issue debauchery, the filmmakers take a clever route. They start at the ending, with three buddies unable to find their friend, who's supposed to get married in five hours. After getting so wasted that none of them can remember a thing that happened, they must attempt to piece together their actions during the lost weekend in hopes of finding the groom in time to get him to the altar, and avoid the unholy wrath of the bride.

So it's a mystery potboiler-cum-fleshpit, with the timeline zagging around as more of their exploits are recalled.

Bradley Cooper plays Phil, the libidinous ringleader of the gang; Ed Helms is Stu the repressed, henpecked dentist; and Justin Bartha is Doug, the bridegroom who promptly gets himself lost. Rounding out the cast is Zach Galifianakis as Alan, the bride's hirsute and chubby man-child of brother, who gets invited along out of pity.

Galifianakis is both hilarious and somehow touching in the role -- he desperately wants to be one of the boys, but he's so clueless that he can't tell when he's included in the joke and when he's the butt of it. One senses Alan doesn't care either way, as long as he's in the mix somewhere. Galifianakis puts a distinctive stamp on what was clearly written as the Jack Black role.

Whatever happened to the boys, it obviously was quite an adventure. Stu's missing a tooth and his grandmother's wedding ring, Phil has an unexplained hospital band on his wrist, and Alan nearly gets eaten by the tiger lounging in the bathroom, which they discover belongs to boxer Mike Tyson.

During their investigation, they come across a cheerful stripper-hooker (one leads to the other) who has married Stu at a quickie chapel, played by Heather Graham; a lost baby, whom Alan dubs Carlos and manipulates into some wildly inappropriate mime; and an Asian gang leader (Ken Jeong) whose combination of ching-chong pigeon English and urban slang makes you laugh uproariously, then immediately feel guilty about it.

A warning to anyone thinking of bringing youngsters along: Despite the higher-than-normal I.Q. quotient, "The Hangover" revels in filth. Make sure to stick around for the end credits, when their debauchery is fully revealed in an eye-popping slideshow. However it got past the MPAA without getting slapped with an NC-17 rating was the cleverest move of all.

3 stars

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