THE HANGOVER took “What Happens in Vegas” seriously by focusing on the second part of the admonition: what “Stays in Vegas” is the collective memory of a bruised and battered bachelor party crew. The manboys in question emerge from post-bacchanalia fog to discover they are not only hungover on ship-meets-iceberg scale, but injured, confused and in possession of a little baby and a full-grown tiger. Piecing together where tot and kitty came from might help them figure out what the f-word happened to the missing bridegroom. The wedding, in L.A., is just hours away.
“You are literally too stupid to insult.”
Like a number of others in the throw-at-wall-see-what-sticks school, some of it is inspired, some desperate. Laugh-out-loud gags alternate with flat-footed groans, and anything within miles of the vanishing hamlet of Good Taste was left bleeding at the California/Nevada border.
It’s mean, crass and obvious, and in the wrong hands would bomb, but the three offbeat leads make most of it work like twisted clockwork. “Wolfpack” lead hound ‘Phil’, ordinarily up for anything crazy, is played by Bradley Cooper, breaking big at 34 after 10 years of honing. Ace TV sidekick Ed Helms also moved up a notch, as ‘Stu’, erstwhile ‘sensible’ member of the group, a dentist with a vicious girlfriend, a missing tooth and a surprise new bride. The other-worldly Zach Galifianakis is ‘Alan’, who…can…only be fully appreciated when observed. They leech every bit of deadpan comic nutrient out of the material, and by wisely playing the idiocy straight, create sympathetically pathetic—and for the sake of the plot, believable—characters that allow us guilt free, stays-in-Vegas space to enjoy their wallowing.
STU: “Why don’t we remember a God damn thing from last night?” PHIL: “Obviously because we had a great fucking time.”
Justin Bartha gets the dishwater-dull straight man gig as the bridegroom. The ever-charming Heather Graham gets a few welcome few scenes, her smile lighting up each shot she’s in. A full-on smash, the $35,000,000 spree made $467,500,000, and was 2009’s #10 movie worldwide. Then it capped that by selling over 8,600,000 discs. *
Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, directed by Todd Phillips, who reworked the script with help from uncredited Jeremy Garelick. 100 minutes, with Sasha Barrese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Racheal Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Rob Riggle, Cleo King, Bryan Callen, Matt Walsh.
* Followed, regrettably, by the wretched The Hangover Part II in 2011, which cost more than twice as much—$80,000,000—and grossed even more, $586,800,000. Though bad enough to generate a barfing hangover (which would’ve been more amusing), its huge haul—besides signalling widespread taste-deficiency among the masses—was sufficient to create The Hangover Part III for 2013. That 5-drinks-too-many slosh amped up production costs again, to $103,000,000. Word-of-mouth (as in–“SUCKS!”) brought its take back down to $362,000,000. Avoid those sequels like you would ‘Alan’ if you saw him looking in your direction.
Credit director Todd Phillips with this: “You know, if I started worrying about what the critics think, I’d never make another comedy. You couldn’t pick a less funny group than critics – you couldn’t find a more bitter group of people!” No little amount of wisdom, there, Todd, but dude, The Hangover II still s—s d—-y d—s.