Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Hangover

The morning after the night before has rarely seemed as extreme as in The Hangover, Todd Philips’ raucous and ribald new comedy peering through the beer goggles at the aftermath of a disastrous bachelor party.

So fundementally blokey is the jokey scenario, that it makes the film’s huge box office success all the more surprising. Lack of subtle female sketching (two types: hooker with a heart of gold or household bitch) and the relentless male leeriness make it somewhat too aggressive and heartless to be a completely satisfying experience. However it’s at least confidently realised in time jumping fashion by Philips and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

Due to be married in two days time, Doug (Justin Bartha) takes his two best friends and oddball brother in law on a trip to Las Vegas. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is a brash schoolteacher (brilliantly introduced pilfering his students’ money for his Vegas run) and Stu (Ed Helms) suffers under his odious partner Melissa (Rachael Harris), while Alan (Joaquin Phoenix-alike Zack Galifianakis) is an idiot unable to distinguish a real Caesar’s Palace from the fake one. The alcohol-fuelled bonding soon begins on the roof of said Palace, some excellent cinematography showcasing Vegas in all its lurid glory.

But before you can say Sin City, there is the all crucial fade to black before the woozy bleary-cam horrors of the following morning take over. Their lavish suite is trashed; there’s a tiger in the bathroom; a baby in the closet; and, worst of all, no sign of Doug. The men have to follow any clues they can to find the groom before his big day.

It’s a nifty, high concept scenario, fusing a detective story (of sorts) with the usual brand of broad Philips humour found in his previous successful Old School. As the trail becomes more convoluted and hilarious, events also become genuinely intriguing, Stu’s current nuptial status and a stolen police car being giddy highlights, not to mention the unexpected appearance of a game Mike Tyson.

So story-central is Lucas and Moore’s narrative that it does in fact railroad more fundamental aspects, notably the, admittedly enjoyable, performances of the guys themselves which fall into easy brackets (obnoxious know-it-all, henpecked wimp, beardy weirdy). Skating lightly across themes of male insecurity, props go to the filmmakers for making a comedy with a backbone but more emotional investment wouldn’t go amiss.

More problematic though are incidental scenes and characters, with Heather Graham treated as a perfunctory cast-off and a mincing Asian gangster, a key role, coming off as simply annoying. Here one senses Philips is straining, relying on a tired bag of humorous tricks also including repeated attacks to gentleman’s areas and a verging-on-sadistic taser demonstration.

Yet it all comes together for a warm conclusion, as shamelessly sentimental as earlier exploits were simply shameless. If only we cared more about the characters it would linger longer in the memory. At least it has the balls (literally) to end on some true ratings bothering hilarity during the closing credits: the phrase ‘What the hell happened last night?’ never seemed more apposite.

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