In Theaters: The Hangover
I came to The Hangover ready to laugh. More than ready: I came primed, as if my entire life (for the past six weeks) had been leading up to witnessing for my own eyes this blinding, white supernova of funny. If I were to do it all over again, I'd probably lower those expectations by 30%. It's frequently amusing, and almost always entertaining. It's in truth way above average for your typical dudes-acting-stupid movie. But it's also far from a classic.
You know the premise by now: a quartet of guys -- four points on a clueless dork compass -- head out to Vegas for a bachelor party. The next morning, one is gone, the night's a blank, and they set into the blazing Vegas sun to find their missing comrade and get him to the altar on time. The advertising campaign has already done a pretty good job of revealing some of the movie's best gag elements, so I won't spoil it any further. The Hangover's plot, which unfolds like a detective story solved by a three-headed, developmentally disabled gumshoe, is best savored blindly.
As a whole, though -- and this is what most surprised me -- it kind of plays it safe. I wanted Hangover to go in truly bizarre directions, introducing us along the way to various, exotic species of Vegas's indigenous weirdos. Too often the scenarios felt stock and flimsy, as if they might collapse at any moment under their own self-conscious schtickiness. There's also a tendency to shoot for easy laughs, at other people's expense. There's liberal use of the word "faggot" that bugged me (but seemed to tickle the fratty guys in the row behind me); an old man's medical examination is mined for needlessly humiliating laughs; and Ken Jeong's character was a double-stuffed stereotype sandwich whose main offense was that he just wasn't that funny.
So what worked? There's definite chemistry there between Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. The script is a dream for a comedic actor, filled with opportunities for all three leads to shine, and all three do. (Justin Bartha, as the film's elusive MacGuffin, doesn't really register, mainly because he's written as the straight-man counterpoint to the other three.) There's no question. It could have been great. By the end, though, you find yourself wishing that some of the unhinged zaniness hinted at in the film's final frames had seeped its way into the actual movie. Rating (out of 10): 7.5