The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillips, is about three best friends (Cooper, Helms, and Bartha) and one awkward tag along (Galifianakis), going to celebrate one last night of manly freedom before one of them gets married. After a wild and crazy night they promise each other they’ll never forget, they wake up the next morning unable to remember a thing–especially where the groom is. With only 24 hours to find him and get back to Los Angeles for the wedding, they retrace their steps to find out where their missing friend could be (also, how that tiger got in the bathroom).
Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers, He’s Just Not That Into You), plays Phil, the good-looking, smooth-talking, frat boy who never grew up. He is our main character, the captain of the ship, steering the group from stop to stop on their blank timeline from the night before. Ed Helms (“The Daily Show”, “The Office”), plays Stu, an uptight dentist whose buddies probably kept around only because he wouldn’t put up much a fight when they made fun of him for being a wiener. Zach Galifianakis (Out Cold, Tru Calling, and a terrific stand-up career), plays Alan, the brother-in-law to be, invited to the bachelor party out of guilt on the groom’s behalf to include him. Alan is an unpredictable wild card who doesn’t seem to be all there, and comes with instructions from the bride not to allow him to drink or gamble.
Now so far, this movie sounds like a formulaic mash up of Dude Where’s My Car? & Harold and Kumar– and to a degree, it is. High concept enough to sum up the plot in the title, and relying on the chemistry of its lead actors to keep us entertained and engaged through the film, it comes out of the gate with us betting against it because we’ve already seen this kind of movie so many times before. But there are two things that save this film from crashing before it can get its wheels off the ground. The first is the sense of off-the-cuff humor, brotherly camaraderie, and outright fun that these people are having not only as the characters, but also as filmmakers. It’s something we recognize from Judd Apatow, and his crew of goofballs. Watching any of those movies, we get the sense that some one called up all their friends and said “Hey, I just got $20 million to make a movie! Wanna go screw around on film for 4 weeks, then release it to the public?” Todd Phillips clearly has a great understanding of this tone, especially since Old School is probably the first example of it that comes to mind.
But the film’s biggest saving grace is definitely the presence of Zach Galifianakis. He stumbles, floats, and dances through each scene, mentally miles away from the logical trains of thought the other characters are following to navigate their predicament. But it’s his naïveté and earnestness that remove him from the panic of the situation, allowing him to add a certain grace to the wackiness of everything that’s going on. It seems like just about every third joke belongs to Zach, which is great, because his humor is so different than the broad frat boy humor of the other two. In fact, some of the jokes in the film are taken directly from his stand-up material (At one point, Rob Riggle refers to him as “Fat Jesus”). The balance of Zach’s weirdness with the old standards of this genre makes the film accessible yet set it apart from the likes of Step Brothers or Talladega Nights.
That’s not to say that Zach is the only good thing about this film. There are plenty of great cameos from people we love to see leave their mark on these films. Stand-up and improv chums Rob Riggle, Brodie Stevens, Matt Walsh, and Ken Jeong all have their time to shine, and bring their own distinct craziness to it all. Ed Helms also deserves a special mention. He steals the screen in “The Office,” but he’s never really gotten to play a real character before. He’s not a cartoon in this film, as he’s been in most past projects. He has feelings and fears (lots of ‘em), and is the main reason we feel any real concern for how they’re going to get out of this mess. He’s not a movie star yet, but he’s definitely on his way.
The Hangover, although perhaps not as quotable as say Anchor Man, or Old School, certainly stands up and announces itself as a new wave of comedic performers whose success is overdue, and the hard (but very funny) work they’ve all put in up to this point clearly proves their value. This is definitely a movie to see.