Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Sasha Barrese, Rachael Harris, Jeffrey Tambor. (2009, R, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 5, 2009
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.