Film

Hair of the dog

The Hangover is vulgar comedy that goes down easy

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The Las Vegas of The Hangover is, of course, a fantasy land, just like the Las Vegas of virtually every other movie ever to be set here, but what a crazy, alluring fantasy it is: a world in which regular dudes stay in giant suites at Caesars Palace, Mike Tyson is still living comfortably and marginally sane, cops are sympathetic to dumbass tourists who commit moronic crimes, and stripper-escorts are sweet-natured mothers and prime settling-down material. Those of us who live here know better, but for 100 minutes The Hangover offers a glimpse into the Vegas of myth, the one that people around the world simultaneously crave and fear.

That dichotomy is at the heart of the story of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who awake in their awesome Caesars suite the day after the bachelor party for their buddy Doug (Justin Bartha) to discover that the groom-to-be is missing, and none of them can remember exactly what happened the night before. The rest of the movie is a quest to piece together the details of that lost evening and locate Doug, who’s set to get married the next day.

The Details

The Hangover
Three and a half stars
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Rated R.
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Beyond the Weekly
The Hangover
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Although The Hangover is a little more plot-heavy than your average raunchy comedy, the search for Doug is mostly just an excuse for director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) to stage a series of absurd set pieces and put the central trio through the stereotypical Vegas paces. The movie doesn’t have much to say about Vegas other than that it’s awesome and a little scary, and the story’s male-bonding arc is mild compared to, say, a Judd Apatow movie.

That’s a good thing, though, since the less time Phillips has to focus on half-hearted life lessons (which inevitably do come), the more time he has to spend on oddball jokes that get progressively more elaborate as the movie progresses. Unlike Old School, which relied on Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn to take their performances constantly further over the top, The Hangover is what passes for measured in a Todd Phillips movie, with Cooper playing it mostly straight as a semi-obnoxious married guy desperate to cut loose, Helms doing his oblivious cuckold bit from the recent season of The Office and Galifianakis stealing the movie as Doug’s weird, borderline autistic future brother-in-law who tags along on the trip.

Within the movie’s framework, these characters feel like real people, or at least their emotional needs are easy to understand. That gives Phillips enough grounding to go off into weird places, and those places are mostly quite funny. As is to be expected from Phillips, the female characters are mostly afterthoughts; Heather Graham’s angelic sex worker pops up seemingly at random, only when the plot calls for it, and Rachael Harris is funny but marginalized as Stu’s emasculating girlfriend.

It’d be an exaggeration to say that The Hangover finds Phillips matured, but it does take growing up a little more seriously than his other films have, and it also works harder to find humor outside of the obvious. With less adept leading men, the movie might have faltered, but Cooper, Helms and especially Galifianakis find the right tone to give Phillips’ Vegas dream world a funny, slightly dangerous appeal.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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Previous Discussion:

  • The action is rote, the special effects are surprisingly poor and the character interactions are only occasionally entertaining.

  • Everything in theaters this week, plus special screenings and movie reviews.

  • Like too many prestige TV shows, the seven-episode limited series is basically a feature film dragged out over multiple episodes.

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