In the past few weeks, advance word for The Hangover
has gone beyond good buzz to full-on sonic boom. You could feel it in the audience at Monday night's public sneak – an almost punchy anticipation, a predetermination to laugh some ass off. (Hello, Hard-R Comedy. We've been expecting you.
) Yet Phillips makes a startling stylistic choice in the film's opening minutes, one that punctures assumptions about what kind of comedy The Hangover
is peddling. In L.A., a nervous bride takes a call on the morning of her wedding day. It's groomsman Phil (Cooper) – dirty, split-lipped, and 300 miles away in the Mojave Desert. His voice cracks as he explains to his best friend's fiancée why they won't be making it to the ceremony: "We fucked up." Then Phillips cues the opening credits – dead-serious font set against menacing shots of bleached-out desert and garish Vegas nightscapes, tuned to a Danzig's metal dirge "Thirteen" ("I was born in the soul of misery" … oy). The sequence has an uneasy effect on the viewer, like the air just got sucked out of the room; it's also devilishly effective in upending expectations. The Hangover
is deliciously darker than Phillips' previous comedies, Old School
and Road Trip
, but it isn't as thick with malice as those credits suggest (this is not, thankfully, Very Bad Things 2: Hey Guys, Let's Kill Some More Strippers
). It may be misdirection, but what it most truly announces is that anything goes and nothing is sacred – save, of course, the bond between men. "Bromance" is too dopey of a word for what goes on here; as with Phillips' earlier films, The Hangover
honors the significance of male friendship without insisting on its primacy. The occasion here is the Vegas-set bachelor party for Doug (Bartha), organized by his three groomsmen: Phil, straitlaced Stu (The Office
's Helms), and Doug's non-sequitur-spouting future brother-in-law, Alan (the sublime Galifianakis, so outré he's toeing performance art here). They all have their private issues – Alan is lonely and socially simple-minded; Stu is rutted in a relationship with a chronic emasculator; and Phil, dickish and bullying, turns his dissatisfaction with himself onto others – but they intend to put all that aside for a night they'll never forget. That is, until they wake the next morning, surrounded by the spoils of the previous night (a scorched hotel suite, a missing tooth, a tiger in the bathroom), but with zero recollection of how it all happened. An edgier film could have been carved out of that premise, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one as consistently, relentlessly funny. It's early yet for this kind of declaration, but what the hell: Co-screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who also wrote last month's indisputably awful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
, just may have scripted both the summer's high point and its ditch-dead bottom. No worries: Ghosts
is all but forgotten already, and The Hangover
instantly has the feel of one for the ages.