by Steve Habrat
In June of 2009, America inexplicably fell in love with an overhyped and lopsided comedy about four unlikable idiots that wake up from a wild night in Vegas with absolutely no memory of their boorish behavior. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, one of them is missing in action and has to be found. You should know that I didn’t go into The Hangover with a negative attitude towards the film. No, in fact, I actually went in with a smile on my face. There was nothing but positive buzz surrounding the film and expectations were sky high. How could I not be excited? I walked out of The Hangover a bit perplexed, a little irritated, and infinitely disappointed. What was I missing that every other American was seeing? The ugly truth is that I really don’t see why people find The Hangover to be one of the funniest movies ever made. It looses steam after about twenty minutes in, has only one mildly likable character in the entire film, and the jokes consistently miss their mark or just deflate right before our eyes. For my money, Todd Phillips, who is responsible for this huge misfire, has directed funnier movies. Yes, I actually thought that his teen comedy Road Trip, which starred Tom Green, and his back-to-school romp Old School were much better than this dud.
The Hangover begins by introducing us to mild-mannered Doug Billings (played by Justin Bartha), who is set to marry the beautiful and wealthy Tracy Garner (played by Sasha Barrese). A few days before the wedding, Doug travels to Las Vegas with his best buddies Phil Wenneck (played by Bradley Cooper), Stu Price (played by Ed Helms), and Tracy’s brother Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis) for a raging bachelor party. The next morning, Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up with absolutely no memory of the previous night and a trashed hotel suite. As they guys stumble around their suite, they discover that Stu is missing a tooth, there is a baby in the closet, and there is a tiger in the bathroom. To make matters worse, Doug is nowhere to be found. As the guys try to piece the events of the previous night together and track down their friend, they are taken on a wild journey that has them crossing paths with a ruthless Chinese gangster named Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong), a kind-hearted stripper named Jade (played by Heather Graham), and the one and only Mike Tyson.
For the first twenty minutes, it is smooth sailing for The Hangover. The characters are certainly quirky, especially the anti-social oddball Alan, but they all appear to have some form of positive promise behind them. The jokes also seem to have a bit of sting, even if they don’t necessarily have you doubled over in laughter. And then there is the anticipation of something crazy looming on the horizon, especially in the opening sequence, which finds a dusty and defeated Phil calling up the testy bride-to-be and admitting that the group has really screwed the pooch on this one. You just can’t help but wonder what happened to these guys, as they look like they have been through Hell and back. After the guys wake up in a daze in their suite, the film begins slipping and it is never able to recover. Here and there, Alan and Stu will deliver a good one liner, but as the guys piece everything together, the laughs seem to dwindle. The events become more and more freakish to the point where it just seems designed to shock rather than amuse, and let me tell you, folks, it barely shocks. The guys bash a baby in the face with a car door, a naked man leaps out of a trunk, a used condom is tossed around the inside of a Mercedes, and a pair of deranged cops demonstrate the effects of a taser on dimwitted trio. All through it, you never once find yourself rooting for these guys to have a stroke of luck and find a lead on their pal, which is frustrating because you want to root for them.
The most popular part of The Hangover seems to be its characters, which many viewers have deemed absolutely hilarious and lovable when I see them as dark, troubled, and unlikable. Cooper’s Phil is built up to be the levelheaded one of the group but he really just comes off as a smirking ass that could use a good punch to the face. He is a schoolteacher who steals field trip money from his students and treats his wife and son as if they barely exist. I suppose Phil’s family is there to stand-in as character development but you get the impression that he sees them as more of an annoyance than a gift. Galifianakis is the one who everyone seems to rally around but I find him to be extremely stupid, random, and off-putting. Now, you’re probably saying, “that’s the point, Steve!” Yes, but there has to be some sort of redeeming quality to his character and there is absolutely nothing beyond the blank stupidity. He is just weird for the sake of being weird. Bartha’s Doug is bland and forgettable, which is ironic because the film’s plot revolves around his buddies tracking him down and getting him to the altar as quickly as possible. The only one who stands out is Helms as the whipped nerd Stu, who is constantly beating himself up for his drunken behavior. You can’t help but feel for him as his domineering girlfriend rips him up one side and down the other. As far as the supporting players go, Heather Graham turns in a sweet but too small performance as Jade, a stripper with a heart of gold, and Ken Jeong single-handedly rips the film’s climax to shreds as the shrill and flamboyant gangster Leslie Chow. I really can’t think of a movie character I have disliked more than Leslie Chow.
While the middle section of The Hangover sags, the film really crumbles when it arrives at its underwhelming and winded climax in the middle of the Nevada desert. By this point, Phillips and his cast seem to have given up entirely and just set the entire project on cruise control. It just sort of withers and dies in the excruciating heat while the characters stand around and scratch their heads. To make things worse, the big reveal with Doug’s character is hoping to be met with a giddy sigh of relief and a slap to the forehead but I met it with more of a yawn and a “that’s it?” response. Overall, The Hangover certainly arrives at the party to have a good time, but all the good stuff comes way too early and we are left with a bunch of stale shocks that hope to root the viewer’s jaw on the floor. I won’t argue that it has its wild and crass moments, but I can think of more than a few comedies that would make this hangover feel like it could be cured with a glass of water and an Advil.
The Hangover is available on Blu-ray and DVD.