As it turns out, The Hangover just wasn’t my shot of Jagermeister. At first, I thought was getting old– that my freewheeling and marginally shameful appreciation of frat-tastic humor was giving way to wrinkly, age-spotted prudery. However, about twenty minutes into The Hangover, I realized I wasn’t experiencing a sudden onset of geriatric clucking— I simply realized I was watching the exploits of men who become brash man-children when exposed to additional testosterone, increased blood-alcohol levels and the prospect of naked ladies. The kind of guys I wish I had the chutzpah to slap around instead of glare at behind their backs when they wake me up at 3 A.M. via whooping and cussing down the hotel hallway.
That’s not to say The Hangover isn’t funny. It is. In fact, much like Old School, it’s a destined crowd-pleaser, if not more for the guys than girls, though I’m sure they’ll enjoy it too—every very deservedly R-rated minute of it.
The Hangover’s title candidly boils the whole plot down to its central conceit: i.e.- it’s not a party movie—it’s a farcical frat boy Blood Hound Gang mystery which kicks off after a raucous night of Las Vegas bachelor-partying. Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up and can’t remember a thing (if you can’t remember it, did it really happen? I’ll take cash for the new tagline, Vegas), which might be ok, except their fourth friend Doug– the bridegroom-to-be– is missing. There’s also a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a mattress impaled on Caesar’s Palace and a valet-parked cop car with their name on it.
As the guys begin piecing together clues to their night of forgotten debauchery in an effort to find Doug and get him back to California in time for his wedding, they discover the depth of their insane exploits— each one cleverly building on, and outdoing, the next.
Along the way we meet overzealous cops, an endearing Mike Tyson, a vengeful naked blackjack player and a typical smile-through-my-lines-oh-and-here’s-my-boob Heather Graham as a peppy hooker looking for rescue and love.
Director Todd Phillips constructs his leading man quartet as a disparate representation of stereotypical dudedom’s four pillars, which apparently, reveals dudes would rather go searching for a case of drunken, butt-invoked pink eye than do anything constructive. Alan embodies the clueless idiot savant/anti-ladies man/possible nuisance to society, Phil is the self-confident, selfish pretty boy who’s more content with strippers than his wife and son, Stu is the weak-willed nice guy/moral compass dominated by a loveless girlfriend and Doug is the respectable one who seems to have it all together.
As is the formula to make you feel good about enjoying an irreverent comedy, each character tidily receives their own redemption arc as they learn lessons only a drugged night in Vegas can teach them. Unfortunately, only two feel like they weren’t manufactured to neatly put a cap on the film. The other resolutions, after following the guys around for 36 hours, felt trite, shoe-horned and shabby— probably because I’ve never bought the irresponsible “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” line of justification, which tends to be a manufactured motto embraced by the self-flagellant to escape responsibility for stupid behavior.
And there’s my conflict. To its credit, if only to unspool a series of “wouldn’t this be funny gags” from director/writer Todd Phillips, The Hangover is a well-crafted comedy. But The Hangover also asks you to care for and invest in the characters, and while Stu anchors the “heart” of the movie with Alan trailing an uncomfortable second, that’s where I found myself tripped up. I had a hard time cheering for a bunch of douchebags, no matter how loveable.
While The Hangover tries and succeeds in being irreverent, casually throwing off real consequences for “can you believe this!?” laughs, the laughs eventually burn out as the movie reaches its pandering conclusion. It’s here, thanks to a digital camera, the guys finally see the craziness they don’t remember and while played for laughs, is surprisingly smutty (I’m sure the seven-year-old sitting behind me had a few questions for his mom on the car ride home). And while the big reveal worked for laughs and shock value, it still showed the heroes of the movie as the kind of boorish jerks I’d just as soon knock out than listen to or watch.