‘The Hangover’ movie review: uproarious Las Vegas comedy from Todd Phillips

A riotous comedy without a hint of sentimentality, Todd Phillips’ The Hangover is a near-classic old-school comedy that recalls Animal House or Caddyshack or, going back even further, the days when W.C. Fields had creative control over his work and produced films like Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis star as three men who wake up in a Las Vegas suite with absolutely no memory of what happened to them the previous night. 

It was apparently quite a bachelor party: blow-up doll in the Jacuzzi, chair on fire, live chicken roaming around. Phil (Cooper) is wearing a hospital bracelet; Stu (Helms) is missing a tooth. Alan (Galifianakis) goes to use the toilet, only to discover a Bengal tiger in the bathroom. 

And there’s a baby in the closet. And what’s worse, their friend Doug (Justin Bartha) is missing, and he’s supposed to get married tomorrow. So Phil, Stu, and Alan must reconstruct the events of the previous night to find their friend. 

This leads them to a stolen police cruiser, a wedding chapel, some Asian gangsters, a stripper/escort played by Heather Graham, the effeminate Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), and Mike Tyson, playing himself with an unusual degree of charm and goofiness. 

The plot is nothing extraordinary, but it’s remarkable to which degree Philips shirks the long-standing rom-com formula reinforced by the recent wave of Judd Apatow comedies and lets this thing play itself out. 

The director’s previous films – Road Trip and Old School – were modestly successful in their own right, but still stuck to the usual conventions. In The Hangover, we have absolutely no emotional involvement in the marriage at the heart of the film, and couldn’t care less about how things are resolved. 

Instead, we’re more than content to watch these three stooges bumble their way through retracing the steps of an eventful night. And what stooges we get: Cooper (more or less a straight man in films like He’s Just Not That Into You), Helms (a former Daily Show correspondent), and Galifianakis (a stand-up comic who made an impression with some viral videos like this interview with Natalie Portman) aren’t stars yet, but soon they will be. 

Most of the film’s humor lies in these three characters, their tics, and how they interact with each other, and the actors play off one another brilliantly. Some of the biggest laughs here are hidden in throwaway (and likely improvised) dialogue quips.

Not that I found everything funny. There’s an extended scene involving police tasers that features the same kind of narcissistic humor that should have gone out of style with the Farrelly Bros. (and, in the light of these guerilla police brutality stun gun videos, just feels awkward here.) 

And while The Hangover isn’t nearly as gross-out a comedy as we’ve become accustomed to, it does feature its share of unnecessary gross out moments (usually involving male nudity). 

Otherwise – for madcap fun without any forced emotional investment, in the style of some of the most celebrated comedians – The Hangover can’t be beat.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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