Hangover, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/19/09 05:19:19

"Sex, drugs, and shoddy comedy."
1 stars (Sucks)

“The Hangover” is a woeful pile of such shameless cliché that it almost comes across as a knowing, winking send-up of the whole “wild weekend” genre - except it’s just not clever enough to pull off something like that. This is a gratingly dumb picture, the sort of thing that mixes frat boy midlife crisis drama with tourism board sloganeering and thinks it’s being deep.

Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and director Todd Phillips (“Old School”) pretend every joke is market fresh, and so we get: a beloved classic car belonging to the bride’s father that will undoubtedly be totaled by the credits; a self-deprecating cameo from a celebrity, playing himself; kooky foreigners with funny accents who act all macho and stuff; kooky foreigners with funny accents who act all gay and stuff; a running gag about a dentist who keeps saying he’s a doctor so everyone else can point out he’s “only” a dentist; a bitchy girlfriend who’ll get told off in the final reel; and a little kid who flips us the finger. Comedies have rarely been as lazy as this, nor have they been so adamantly stupid.

The film tells the tale of four jerks who head off to Vegas for a bachelor party, get seriously plastered, and wake up the next morning with no memory of the night before and no clue where the groom went; it’s up to the trio of buzzed losers to retrace their steps and find their pal. It’s excitingly new, assuming you’ve never heard of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” or “The Night Before.”

Actually, that’s not fair - it’s entirely possible for a movie to take a worn-out premise and give it new life. Lucas and Moore, however, are not the guys for the job. They plaster their script with uninspired revelations, half-baked (and often easily forgotten) subplots, and generic characterizations, and not even lively performances from a cast that’s smart about comedy can dampen the dumb.

But let’s start at the beginning. Rather than open the picture with the guys waking up (which would create a great sense of comic confusion for us), we instead get twenty or so minutes of labored backstory, where we’re subjected to a series of the most sitcommy of lame set-ups. Doug (Justin Bartha) is a smarmy bastard marrying into an absurdly wealthy family; we spend more time with the father of the bride (Jeffrey Tambor) than we do the bride herself (Sasha Barrese), all so we can set up how much dad just loves his vintage convertible, which Doug can take to Vegas as long as he’s careful, and holy cripes does the movie really need this much set-up for a dumb-ass wrecked car joke?

There’s also the matter of the bride’s brother, Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis is one of the brightest, funniest, most daring and original stand-up comics working today - and he’s one hundred percent wrong for the role. Alan is supposed to be a socially awkward weirdo, equal parts stupid and creepy. But Phillips is too content to let Galifianakis work in his own winkingly clueless stage persona into the mix. Alan shouldn’t be the one to deliver snarky comebacks, nor should we see Galifianakis sneaking in his own “isn’t saying things like ‘Vegas, baby!’ stupid?” attitudes in the margins. Yes, saying “Vegas, baby!” is stupid, but Phillips and company don’t realize it, making Galifianakis’ snarkiness completely out of place. He’s too self-aware in the role, tossing off jokes about Godzilla and the Jonas Brothers and Indiana Jones. When he names a baby they find “Carlos,” we don’t see Alan being stupid; we see Galifianakis being sarcastic about stupidity. (Plus, Alan’s not the kind of guy to have an ironic beard, which Galifianakis has sported for years.)

Then there’s Phil (Bradley Cooper), whom we first meet stealing field trip money from his students to fund his vacation. And we think, OK, this movie’s going to get deliciously dark with its comedy, bravely making its leading man an irredeemable asshole. Except no, not really - this is the only nasty thing Phil does, which makes it completely out of place. Phil spends the rest of the movie being utterly generic, starting off as the guy who warns Doug about how crummy married life is, turning out to be the guy who cracks wise but otherwise has no personality, and ends up, inexplicably, being granted a “tender moment” where he realizes married life isn’t so bad after all, never mind that nothing about this realization pops up anywhere at all in the story and was only clumsily tacked on to make sure the audience leaves liking him, or something. It’s a mess.

But not as messy as Phil (Ed Helms), who fills the formulaic role of “straight-laced buddy.” He’s the dentist who keeps calling himself a doctor, and he’s the one with the shrewish girlfriend (Rachel Harris) who bosses him around with the furor of a character created by male writers that have never spent more than fifteen minutes with a real woman. She exists so we can have a woman to hate (we can’t hate the bride-to-be, since our heroes’ best pal much wind up with her by the credits), and so we can have the inevitable scene where Stu tells her off. She’s here because the movie doesn’t have room for a stuffy college dean we can boo and hiss. (Phillips also made “Old School,” which went out of its way to wiggle in a stuffy college dean subplot.)

Stu discovers he married a stripper (Heather Graham), a woman who enters and exits the plot repeatedly, the writers using her as a storytelling crutch they can bring in and dump without a thought. Needless to say, Stu ends up liking her, and why not? I shudder to think of the film’s gender politics, in which strong-willed women are presented as bitchy and evil and maybe a little dykish, while big-titted, clueless bimbos are presented as awesome. But then, I don’t think the script is clever enough to have an opinion that goes beyond formulaic plot points and the no-dimensional characters that can fill them.

Finally, we come to Mike Tyson, who plays himself as the celebrity the guys must meet along their journey. It’s about as awkward as a celebrity cameo has ever been in a movie like this, with the characters repeatedly praising Tyson, as if the heavyweight wouldn’t take the role unless it came with a constant ego boost. It’s sort of what someone without a sense of humor would think of as self-deprecating: “ha ha, I get to pretend I’m a really nice guy who owns a tiger, and then everyone tells me how terrific I am.” Celebrity cameos like this are supposed to be the point of the joke - someone famous sending up their image - but here, there’s no image to send up (unless you count a bit where Tyson punches Galifianakis once), and no punchline.

The rest of the film is just as sloppy, and just as tiresome. When not filling his picture with visible gaffes and who-cares? plot holes, Phillips is working on barely providing the bare minimum. He’s content with underdefined characters, go-nowhere guest spots (this is the first time I’ve ever been tired of seeing Rob Riggle, who adlibs his way through a lousy scene involving Tasers and crotches), and half-assed jokes that obliviously confuse “four guys getting drunk in Vegas” with “daringly raunchy.” “The Hangover” is as lifeless and as trite as the dopey tourism slogan that it thinks inspired it.

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