Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Hangover (2009)

The exact opposite of a movie that has escaped beneath my radar, like the entry below, is one which has been so hyped up as being funny beyond words, that it comes as something of an anticlimax when finally viewed. The above film from director Todd Phillips was the undoubted sleeper hit and box-office champion of its year and is indeed a fun watch, although I would be a little hard-pressed to explain why this film was received quite as rapturously as it was.

There is little in Phillips' back filmography which includes "Old School", "Road Trip", and "Starsky and Hutch" that suggests that he could churn out anything more than light entertainment, far less such a massive hit. Moreover he cast four little-known actors (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Zach Galfianakis) as the four friends celebrating Bartha's stag night in Las Vegas. As things turn out, he has gifted these performers with both an unexpected success and definite career boosts. The movie has certainly created breakout roles for Cooper and Galfianakis in particular and both are now in great demand. The latter plays the socially-gauche brother of Bartha's fiancee, who is begrudgingly invited to join Bartha and his two long-standing best buddies on their night out. They set off in the prospective father-in-law's prized Mercedes, which, one just knows in one's bones, will be a wreck-on-wheels by the film's end.

One has seen amusing bachelor party movies before, but this film's starting point is not the night's shennanigans as they unroll, but rather three of the four awakening in their trashed hotel suite the morning after to discover that the bridegroom-to-be has gone AWOL. None of them can recall anything about the night just past, having been inadvertently drugged by Galfianakis' would-be contribution to the party, and they must reconstruct their sordid adventures. All of the plot points that one had heard of in advance were present and correct: the tiger in the bathroom (stolen from Mike Tyson), the unknown baby in the closet, the stolen cop car, the naked Chinese thug in the boot demanding repayment for eighty thousand dollars worth of gambling chips. Add to these Helms' pussy-whipped dentist who finds himself minus a front tooth and married to a whore (a rather sweet turn from Heather Graham) plus no sign of their missing friend bar his bedroom's mattress on a hotel's turret, and the ingredients are all in place. Can they unravel their picaresque journey through the previous night, find Bartha, and get back to Los Angeles for the wedding in a few hours' time? You bet they can!

While the film was well-constructed, the characters reasonably well fleshed-out, and the catastrophe on catastrophe scenario well-paced, I found the movie consistently amusing and entertaining, rather than laugh-out-loud funny. There was only one (rather bad-taste) joke which actually made me chortle, but it was something of a pleasure to find a modern comedy which was not totally dependent on gross-out humour and a plethora of bodily fluids. All in all it was a very likeable film, if not the laugh-riot I had been led to expect. Needless to say its huge success has ensured that its sequel is now in post-production and I bet that's not something that Phillips foresaw when he directed this first installment. And if his name is not included in the four leads' nightly prayers, it certainly should be.
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