If Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno” and Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” weren’t hurtling towards us, then I could safely say that Todd Phillips’ “The Hangover” is the funniest film of the year. But even acknowledging the comedic skills of Cohen and Apatow, they have a very high bar to clear against Phillips’ unashamed raunchy guy humor that would pause for a moment of affection if it gave a shit about that touchy-feely crap. “The Hangover” is rude, loud, obnoxious, and painfully hilarious.
Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Doug (Justin Bartha) aren’t close friends as much as Stu, Phil, and Doug are close friends and Alan is a sweet but socially-and-possibly-somewhat-mentally-retarded tag-along who’s about to become Doug’s brother-in-law. Stu has his own issues as he’s completely pussy-whipped by his uber-bitch of a girlfriend and Phil is a sleazy English teacher who happily cons his students out of their money and then proceeds to tell Doug the horrors of married life. None of these guys qualify as “unlikable” (although Cooper’s a tough sell and I’ll get to that in a bit), but they’re certainly not in the vein of Apatow’s cuddly misfits. The four head to Vegas a couple days before Doug’s wedding to indulge in a night they’ll never forget…except when they wake up and can’t remember a thing. It’s humorous when you’re wondering how a tiger got in the bathroom or there’s a baby in the closet. It’s a race-against-the-clock when you can’t find the groom. Alan, Stu, and Phil spend the rest of the movie racing around Vegas, trying to put the events of the night back together so they can find Doug and get back before the wedding.
I left “The Hangover” convinced of two things. First, Todd Phillips must stick to hard-R comedies. The success he found with “Road Trip” and “Old School” evaded him with softer fare like “Starsky & Hutch” and “School for Scoundrels”. “The Hangover” is easily his best film to date and it’s because he doesn’t have to pull a single punch. He trusts his actors to be charismatic and likable enough that we’ll find them sympathetic in their misfortunes even though they have no one to blame but themselves. At the same time, we have to find them unlikable enough so that we can laugh at their punishments guilt-free. It’s a tricky balancing act but Phillips pulls it off.
But the real standout here and the main reason you should see this movie is Zach Galifianakis. Those already familiar with his comedy won’t be surprised to see him steal every scene but after this film opens I’ll be shocked if Galifianakis doesn’t go straight to the top of the A-list. His comedic timing and delivery is impeccable. Every time he opens his mouth, I found myself struggling to breathe because I was laughing so hard. I want to quote all of his lines but I can’t because I don’t want to spoil any of the film for anybody. If the Academy had the balls to recognize a performance from a raunchy comedy, Galifianakis, would be a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. There is no other comedian out there that’s like Galifianakis and I’m thankful that “The Hangover” finally gives him a chance to shine in a major motion picture.
The film also includes great performances from Helms and satellite characters played by Rob Riggle and Ken Jeong. The film’s biggest miscasting lies with Cooper. It’s not that he’s too good looking or not sleazy enough. The problem is that he doesn’t charm. His first scene is him essentially stealing money from his students before telling one of them to fuck off. There needs to be enough charm to make us shocked but still humored by that behavior and Cooper just doesn’t have it. He’s affable enough but this is essentially the same role as Vince Vaughn’s from “Old School”-married guy struggling to reclaim youth by going overboard into irresponsible behavior-but while Vaughn can do that kind of role in his sleep, Cooper is constantly struggling to win us over.
“The Hangover” isn’t quite a buddy movie as much as it’s a survival movie, both for the characters and for the audience. As they go from mishap to mishap and try to find their friend while dealing with the consequences of their forgotten night in Vegas, we’re constantly struggling to breathe as we’re both shocked and delighted by the big laughs the film delivers. “The Hangover” may not end up being THE funniest film of the year, but it’s certainly a contender.
Rating —– B plus