Warner Bros. // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 31st, 2009
Some guys just can't handle Vegas.
The biggest comedy of 2009 was also one of the year's biggest surprises, with a supremely talented but lesser-known cast rocketing to stardom thanks to director Todd Phillips' risk-taking and a huge word-of-mouth success. If you haven't already seen it, chances are you've been told by at least three people that it's one of the funniest movies ever made. Does it live up to that hype? Can any movie?
On the eve of their friend Doug's (Justin Bartha, National Treasure) impending nuptials, three friends -- arrogant Phil (Bradley Cooper, The Midnight Meat Train), henpecked Stu (Ed Helms, The Office), and oddball brother-in-law to-be Alan (Zach Galifianakis, The Comedians of Comedy) take the bachelor away for a Vegas weekend. Three of the friends -- minus Doug -- wake up in their hotel room to discover the groom has gone missing. The rest of the film is devoted to the guys piecing together the previous night's debauchery, which none of them can remember. And since every new revelation should remain a surprise (hint: one involves Mike Tyson and a tiger), I'll avoid discussing them here. Needless to say, the boys managed to pack quite a bit into one night.
Let's get this out of the way: The Hangover is neither the funniest comedy of the last five years nor the terribly unfunny borefest the inevitable backlash would suggest. It's a Good Comedy but not a Great one, and has already been done in by extreme opinions on both sides of the spectrum. Best to see the movie and make up your own mind. The movie, like director Todd Phillips' Old School before it, is a celebration of everyday men and their boys-will-be-boys bad behavior -- only in this case, things get way out of hand. It's incredibly vulgar, often dark, and occasionally fearless. Don't dismiss the film outright, based on the vocal opposition. Any movie bearing that description deserves at least a look.
The best news about the success of The Hangover is that it will hopefully make major stars out of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Cooper, who has dipped into comedy both great (Wet Hot American Summer) and dismal (All About Steve), plays one of cinema's best douchebags here, doing so without ever backing down and trying to make us like him. Though he doesn't get the same laughs as his co-stars, his performance is just as strong. Helms, who is so funny and likable as Andy Bernard on The Office, is saddled with a difficult task: he's got to be nice and nerdy but also the lone voice of reason amongst the group. Stu is the audience surrogate, which leaves him stranded somewhere between fully-realized character and dull straight man. He gets his share of laughs, but too often his dialogue is reduced to shouting "What are we going to do?" While I'm thrilled to see Helms get the exposure, the role manages to waste a good deal of his talent and helps to highlight the central problem with the film: it's repetitive. Despite the ticking clock device and the characters' very obvious need to find their friend, the story doesn't have enough forward motion. You can't have characters hyperactively screaming and reminding us how high the stakes of their predicament are, when your movie isn't in any big hurry.
The most talked-about performance in the film belongs to Zach Galifianakis as the more-than-slightly-off Alan. He's the character everyone is still laughing about when the movie is over, and was quickly pegged as The Hangover's breakout star. Galifianakis been one of my favorite stand-ups for years; there's no one currently doing absurdist humor better. I may also be one of the few people alive that both saw and really enjoyed his performance in the 2001 snowboarding comedy Out Cold. That movie may have largely been a train wreck (though it has more than it share of moments, I swear), but he stood out like a shining beacon of hope, wringing laughs out of just about every line delivery. It's nice, then, that in The Hangover, the rest of the film is almost as funny as Galifianakis. Unfortunately, Alan is not a perfect comic character, as I found myself irritated (and not in the way I'm meant to be irritated) by his "otherness" in the first half of the film. There's a difference between being awkward and odd, and not even being from Earth. Too often the movie leans towards the latter in the early goings. However, once the plot kicks in and Galifianakis finds his groove with the other actors, the character really starts to work. If The Hangover does nothing but bring more attention to him as a comedian and an actor, I'll be happy.
Warner Bros.' Blu-ray release of The Hangover is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it looks and sounds very nice. The 1080p transfer is warm and demonstrates good detail -- colors are rich and you can all but see the sand being kicked up into the air during the desert sequences. The TrueHD audio track does a fine job with the dialogue and multiple musical cues, but is hardly ever called upon to do any heavy lifting -- The Hangover just isn't that kind of comedy. While it's unlikely that anyone will be busting out this disc to show off their HD setup, Phillips is a rare comedy director that takes the time with his photography and the Blu-ray shows off his efforts nicely.
Where the disc falters is in its collection of bonus material. While there's a good amount included, nearly all of it proves to be a disappointing waste of time. Up first is a picture-in-picture commentary track featuring Phillips, Helms, Cooper, and Galifianakis. It sounds like it would be a great listen, but is way too subdued and light on information and humor. Plus, the "picture-in-picture" offers no advantage, as there's nothing visually interesting about the stars looking at a screen. The gag reel isn't funny, despite the cast. And the bonus "missing Las Vegas" photos are worthless, as all the best pictures already wound up in the movie and we're forced to individually scroll though each. It's easy to lose interest very quickly.
Two brief musical performances have been included: one of the three stars improvising their own song (a better, shorter version is in the finished movie, making this obsolete) and another minute-long clip of The Dan Band performing "Fame" (is it just me, or has their schtick -- so funny in Old School -- already grown tired?). Several compilation featurettes have also been assembled, including a series of Ken Jeong outtakes called "The Madness of Ken Jeong" and another short piece that compiles the movie's action beats. Only the Jeong bit scores any laughs. The final extras are a lame "Map of Destruction" and a digital copy of the film.
Like in Old School (still one of my favorite comedies of the decade), Todd Phillips makes The Hangover work because he builds humor out of both character and situation. These are funny people doing funny things, and we are not meant to simply laugh at them -- many times, we're laughing with them (the controversial "masturbating baby" gag, for example). Phillips has assembled another strong three-man ensemble, with each actor finding a different way to be funny. If Old School is still the superior film, it's because those characters were better drawn. Funny as they are, all three members of The Hangover's ensemble have a tendency to become a bit one-note. It's never long before they snap out of it and catch us off guard, however, meaning the film's dead spots can be overlooked. The extras on the Blu-ray may be a disappointment, but the movie itself is, I suspect, highly re-watchable.
The Hangover may not be the classic it's made out to be, but it's still Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions
* Gag Reel
* Musical Performances
* Photo Gallery
* Digital Copy
* Official Site