The Hangover (2009) Movie Review

The Hangover 2 is now out in theaters, and the movie has already attracted vitriol from critics around the world.  Let’s backtrack to an earlier time, a time when The Hangover was a sleeper success, jet-propelling the careers of stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis.

Directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, Due Date), The Hangover tells the story of a crazy night in Vegas. Not exactly original, but the film flows easily and the jokes often come from nowhere to stick tenuous landings.

The main characters journey to Las Vegas for a stag night. The next morning, the boys wake up without any recollection of the night before. And, oh yeah, they lost the groom (Justin Bartha).  There is also, for some reason, a tiger in the bathroom.

“Ragtag group of men goes on a crazy adventure in Vegas” is an easy formula. The Hangover succeeds most in that it doesn’t try to be original. The characters are all easy tropes– the charismatic rule-breaker (Cooper), the nerdy worrywart (Helms), and the dumb guy (Galifianakis). Each character acts exactly as expected in every scene, save for the late discovery of one character’s card-counting savant powers.

Todd Phillip‘s direction is suitably easygoing. The movie moves slowly for a comedy of this sort. The first act is overly lengthy, as everything before the forgotten night could have been easily summed into a few scenes. However, cutting the first act would have resulted in the audience missing out on some top notch Jeffrey Tambor scenes.

The Hangover features a solid supporting cast, including the delightful Heather Graham as a stripper with a heart of gold. Mike Tyson‘s cameo is never quite funny, but it is enjoyable for its unexpectedness. One of the highlights of the film is Ken Jeong‘s Mr. Chow. Jeong took what could have been an easy stock Asian mobster and turned the character into an effete, violent, perplexing figure, just this side of crazy.

Phillips never introduces a sense of danger into the film, or even a sense of tension. This is a positive factor. No one watching the film really wants to worry if the groom will be found, or if the gang will pay off the mob.  Nonetheless, there are enough surprises and twists to keep audiences guessing. We’re meant to root for the main characters, and nothing really bad ever happens to them. In fact, the movie’s humor is rarely if ever mean-spirited. While dialogue is often risqué, there are no graphic scenes of sex or violence. The Hangover isn’t a movie you could watch with children, but it’s a movie that would fail to offend most mainstream American adults.

The Hangover isn’t an amazing movie. It’s certainly not the best movie of the decade, or even the best comedy. What it is, is a solidly funny 100 minutes of easy comedy that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence.  It’s sad that that alone makes the film an outstanding outlier for our modern times.

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