Friday, June 12, 2009

This 'hangover' provides big raunchy laughs

Ever since “Animal House” became a huge comedy smash in the summer of 1978, the low-brow gross-out comedy has been a mainstay of the summer movie season. There have been many pale imitators, but some have been riotously funny. Luckily, “The Hangover” falls mostly in the latter category.

“The Hangover” is set in Las Vegas the morning after a bachelor party that went way over the top even by Vegas standards. The problem is no one involved can remember what happened, and the groom (Justin Bartha, “National Treasure”) is missing. In his place
are a baby and a tiger.

The film’s set-up gives it a bit of an edge over the many others films that deal in the debauchery of Vegas or trade in frat boy humor. Instead of seeing the exploits of the main characters, we are left joining them in piecing together the aftermath of what turns out to be very strange evening.

There aren’t really characters in the film so much as there are familiar archetypes: the snarky ringleader (Bradley Cooper, “Yes Man”), the uptight geek (Ed Helms, “The Office) and the lovable slob (Zach Galifianakis). It is to the actors’ credit that they find some fresh angles in which to play their roles.

Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis have a believable chemistry together. They seem like friends. Galifianakis steals the movie several times as Alan, the bride’s socially awkward, perhaps slightly deranged, childlike brother. He desperately wants to be liked, and his awkward attempts at male bonding score some of the films biggest laughs.

The film is funny, but in mere description some of the better jokes probably will seem flat. The performances and the execution are what make the film work. Director Todd Philips has been one of the few directors to successful rehash this sort of frat boy humor with his films “Road Trip” and “Old School.”

The screenwriters, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, have written films like “Four Christmases” which have been amusing, but felt collared by a PG-13 rating. Here with an R rating the comedy seems less restrained, and it is all the better for it.

There is one aspect of the film that is likely to leave a nasty taste in many people’s mouths. A character played by Ken Jeong (“Knocked Up”) is both simultaneously a gay and Asian stereotype that, with the exception of the character’s surprising introduction, isn’t very funny. These sort of films are suppose to deal in political incorrectness and pushing the boundaries of good taste, but this characterization seems too broad and out of place with the rest of the film.

The above shortcoming isn’t enough to detract from the film overall. Even so, if you aren’t a fan of low-brow humor then you may want to take a pass on “The Hangover.”
This certainly isn’t a subtle film — after all, this is the sort of film that has jokes involving being tasered in the face and genitals — but the mystery aspect of the story does hold interest.

There is also a weird energy to the events unfolding, and the film goes to unexpected places. There is a celebrity cameo that has been revealed in the trailers that I won’t spoil here for those who have managed to avoid the previews. Let’s just say that that it is oddly inspired.

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