Is there a city more infamous than Las Vegas? Lovingly deemed “Sin City,” it’s where Tupac was gunned down. The NBA All-Star game will no longer be held there after Adam “Pacman” Jones made it rain with dollar bills and then bullets after a strip club altercation. It’s a gambler’s paradise where lives can be made and lost in just the yank of a slot machine handle. Hollywood loves playing with stories surrounded in the world without rules city limits. Steven Soderbergh depicted the heist of casino millions in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, forty years after Vegas should have been wiped clean by the original. Martin Scorcese’s 1995 opus, Casino merged the world of Goodfellas with that of the city of sin. However, the city has been immortalized in my cinematic mind by Swingers. It shall forever be known as “Vegas, baby. Vegas,” even though the film probably has no more than 15 minutes of screen-time set there. If there’s only one other thing Las Vegas is known for, it’s probably bachelor parties. Hence, we have the newest entry into the Las Vegas oeuvre, The Hangover.
Doug is set to be married to Tracy. Aside from getting cold feet, the pre-marriage routine calls for a bachelor party and Doug is scheduled to celebrate one last taste of freedom with his best friends, as well as Tracy’s brother, Alan. Put bluntly, Alan is sort of a strange individual. He shirks at the tailor measuring his inner thigh for his tuxedo fitting, but then drops trou to embrace his soon-to-be brother-in-law in only a jockstrap, like he’s Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. However, in an odd way, Alan is the fourth wheel that balances out the vehicle of Doug and his friends Phil and Stu. Phil is a married father who teaches grade school, but embraces any time away from home. He is the knowledgeable player of the group, who encourages Vegas’ no rules motto, but ultimately adheres to them himself. Stu is the worrywart of the group. A dentist who fancies himself a doctor, suffers from an overbearing girlfriend he must lie to in order to join his friends. Once it’s on though, it’s destination Vegas.
Bachelor parties are supposed to be about having fun and for most, that’s what Las Vegas personifies. It’s no different for our fearless foursome as – much to Stu’s chagrin – they throw caution completely into the wind and go for broke. Upon arrival, they immediately upgrade their quaint shared rooms to a multi-thousand-dollar-per-night suite. He who visits Vegas, must party like it. They trek up to the roof of the hotel/casino (“catel?” “hosino?”) for a toast and vow to make it the best night possible. Alan provides the drinks. The debauchery begins.
Then, the debauchery ends. We fade to black and open back up in the suite the next morning. A tornado, localized entirely within their suite, hit. A pack of jungle animals stampeded and then left. At least those explanations would make sense. Actually, that second one is party true. Stu wakes up with a missing incisor and bloodstains on his shirt. Alan, bleary-eyed, wakes up in his underwear (not that surprising, really) to go to the bathroom while a Bengal tiger stares him down. A baby, whom Alan dubs Carlos, cries in a closet. The worst thing though, is there’s no sign of Doug and nobody can remember a thing from the night before. Hence, the title. Doug is slated to be married the next day, so they have to retrace their steps from the few clues they are given and bring their friend to his wedding on time.
Director Todd Phillips has specialized in the male bonding group comedy. He strayed from the formula with Mr. Woodcock, and that film failed, whether it was his fault or not. He built his name through Road Trip and Old School and The Hangover seemed a naural fit for him. He does seem back at home, as he’s able to juggle multiple characters all having their own agenda. He’s aided by what’s easily the best produced script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, whose strongest competitors are Rebound, Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The detective-like work Phil, Stu and Alan must do to find their friend and ringleader is a great storytelling device, especially for use in comedy. The creative team deserves and extra bit of kudos for making the best use of an end credits sequence I’ve seen to-date. It’s very much ingrained in the story, but would be superfluous to show in the body of the film. It adds an exclamation point to the story and the viewer is duly rewarded for the additional few minutes in their seat.
It is kind of odd to have the main character – or at least the character the entire premise of the film is built around – absent for the vast majority of the film’s runtime. Obviously, that’s why Justin Bartha played the role of Doug and not someone with a bigger name. Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms play Phil and Stu respectively, and you feel them truly embody their characters. Cooper’s golden-boy tan gives Phil a hint of sliminess, while Helms typifies the zeta-male, cowering to the whim of his alpha girlfriend. Alan, on the other hand, is the manic creation of Zach Galafianakis. Go ahead and start committing that name to memory right now. You’d better be able to spell it, too. I’d seen some YouTube clips of him in the recent past and wasn’t quite set up for what I received here. Alan is someone who’s “not all there,” but he isn’t’ completely detached from the world, either. He still retains some shreds of societal values and this balance helps make him a unique character. Galafianakis is destined for a Danny McBride-esque ascent and this is the role to start it.
The film remains consistently funny throughout, only occasionally throwing in a joke that doesn’t hit. It takes you to some Vegas staples, like the quick-marry chapels, but brings some new twists with a Mike Tyson cameo and an Asian gang (are there any other?) led by Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong. This type of comedy was a complete breath of fresh air after suffering the brutal wounds of Observe and Report. It’s ultimately a lighthearted R-rated comedy that doesn’t pull any punches, but also isn’t aiming for the solar plexus. Just the funny bone. Some movies are made purely for entertainment and enjoyment purposes. On each level this film wholly satisfies its goals.
Vegas, the city, and Vegas films have been struggling as of late (can we please forget about What Happens in Vegas?), but The Hangover can be proud to enter the pantheon of respectable Vegas-set films. It has a creative and humorous script married to a director perfect for the material, and it presents us with a great new talent we should be seeing emerge in larger and larger roles in the near future. It might not be as fun as a night full of partying in Sin City, but it could be the next best thing. Gather your buddies for one last toast and prepare for The Hangover. It’s one you’ll actually enjoy having.