In The Hangover, a desperate bride finally reaches her fiancé's best man five hours before the wedding and is informed that the event is not going to happen. It's not that the groom, Doug (played by Justin Bartha), has changed his mind; it's just that his three friends can't find him, and they don't remember what happened. Cue the opening credits.
The Hangover is a man's movie, but not one that resorts to ridiculous over-the-top storytelling for the sake of it. One of the more clever comedies in recent memory, the movie makes us laugh while keeping us guessing as to what happened and where the groom is. After the first scene, the movie jumps back two days to introduce us to the eclectic group of guys that will be taking part in the bachelor party in Vegas. Then, we see is the three "survivors," played by coolheaded Bradley Cooper, pushover Ed Helms and strangely idiotic Zach Galifianakis (he changed his name when he became an actor, clearly), waking up to find their penthouse suite trashed and burned. Doug's bed is literally missing, and there is a tiger in the bathroom.
And this is how the rest of The Hangover unfolds. The characters realize their actions of the previous night at the same time the audience does, hooking us in a way few comedies does. It's a comedic mystery, if you will, and each "twist and turn" reveals something even crazier than the last. And yet, though one can't imagine so many crazy things happening to one group of men in the course of a night, the picture never goes over the top like Dude, Where's My Car? or Harold and Kumar. The Hangover is a smart comedy, which is sort of funny in its own right considering that the film was directed by two guys who, up until this point, have only written critically panned comedies such as Rebound, Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. That being said, director Todd Phillips is responsible for Old School, one of the best man-comedies of the 21st century.
The Hangover is consistently entertaining and features a good amount of hilarious scenes, but it isn't laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end. There are stretches that aren't particularly funny, though it isn't trying to be. Most of the jokes hit the mark, but Phillips is more concerned with telling an entertaining story than a hilarious one. So, its one main fault is also a strength, but those expecting the best comedy in years should look elsewhere.
The movie works on the performances of the leads. Cooper, who from the rumor mill sounds like he is going to break into the stratosphere (I have always considered him the "friend in Alias"), plays the everyman quite well. He's smart, yet carefree almost to a fault, and he balances out Galifianakis' goofy, pitch-perfect character extremely well. Helms also does a good job in a character that is both similar and different to that of Andy in "The Office." Mike Tyson is also quite good.
The Hangover isn't the funniest movie to come to theaters, but its clever storytelling approach and entertaining plot make up for its seemingly inconsistent laughs. The Hangover is one of the best movies of the summer - though that may not be saying much.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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