Structurally, The Hangover could just be the Reservoir Dogs of bachelor party movies. After a brief opening segment, that sets up that Justin Batha’s Doug is getting married, and that Stu (The Office‘s Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu’s brother-in-law to be, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are taking him to Vegas, the film abruptly cuts to the aftermath of the night before.
And what an aftermath. There’s a baby in the closet, a thoroughly trashed hotel suite, a tiger in the bathroom, and, most crucially of all, a missing Doug. What follows next is the adventure to find out exactly what happened to Doug, and then the small job of getting him home in time for the wedding.
Only things aren’t that easy. Ed, for instance, not only has a mysteriously missing tooth, but also the small matter of explaining everything to his very controlling fiancée to be back home. Phil, in a star-making performance from Bradley Cooper (who we last saw as Jim Carrey’s best mate in Yes Man, and is now lined up for The A-Team movie), is a lot more cavalier, and Alan is one of the finest big-screen comedy creations of the year. Living firmly on the wrong side of odd, he’s responsible for many of the films funniest moments.
And there are a number of them. With a script that’s suitably profane, and no intention of playing to a PG13 audience, The Hangover throws plenty at the wall to grab its laughs. The proverbial glue here, though, is provided by director Todd Phillips, who recovers from his stumble with his School For Scoundrels remake, and delivers something more akin to the form he showed with Road Trip, and the terrific Old School. Arguably one of the most able comedy directors working in Hollywood, he makes plenty of his characters, and sends you home having had a healthy chuckle.
Yet, for me, The Hangover – which has stormed to the top of the US box office, off some very positive reviews – falls short of Phillips’ Old School peak. Chuckles there are, belly laughs are in short supply, and you do end up having to cut the concept a little bit of slack as it gets stretched just a little too far. Half way through, too, Heather Graham pops up, delivering another performance that’s perfectly functional, but makes you wonder just whatever happened to the promise she showed once upon a time in Boogie Nights.
The Hangover is certainly one of the best Hollywood comedies in a while, but that’s not the compliment necessarily that it should be. And sat next to the laugh-machine that was Role Models, for instance, The Hangover remains a solid, funny couple of hours, rather than anything close to outright classic.
It’s a harsh criticism, granted, and the three lead performances here are quite brilliant, almost earning the film its fourth star. I also appreciate that I don’t seem to be in the majority on this one. Yet, for me, there’s just the old feeling that the sum of all the parts here, whilst coming together to make something that’s undoubtedly good, didn’t quite equal the whole.