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The Hangover

Hangovers, at least by personal experience, are harrowing episodes of nausea, agony and, if you’re lucky, the shakes. I’ve known hangovers to stay with me for days and make me swear to never again abuse the substances that made me that way.

But if there’s been long enough time between my last bad hangover and, say, an upcoming birthday party, I usually forget what a complete workover they do on my system. Kind of like a Todd Phillips movie.

No, that’s not fair, because I like good Todd Phillips movies, mostly (ie: Road Trip and his defining Old School), but sometimes, like getting well vodka on a bad bender, you get an off Todd Phillips film (School for Scoundrels, Starsky and Hutch) and you just can’t shake ‘em.

So how does Phillips new film, The Hangover fare? Well, if you’re calling Old School some top shelf Tequilla, The Hangover might find itself somewhere on the back counter.

That’s not to say that it isn’t good, or isn’t funny, because it’s both of those. However, where The Hangover is at its weakest isn’t the fault of Todd Phillips. Its biggest problem is the script. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghost of Girlfriends Past and Four Christmases) The Hangover is an attempt at a good Todd Phillips movie but ends up just being a typical “What Happens in Vegas” style movie.

Phillips tries to save it, and this is where I’ll fault him, by trying to turn The Hangover into another Old School. Whereas Old School started with a wedding, this film centers 'round the impending nuptials of Doug and Tracy (Justin Bartha and Sasha Barrese) and a lot of the wedding footage felt like it came right out of the b-roll from Old School, including the band.

Taking Doug to Vegas for his bachelor party are his two best pals, Phil ( Wedding Crashers' Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) and his soon to be brother in law Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

Once again, just as Old School centered around a straight man (Luke Wilson), a con man (Vince Vaughn) and a wild man (Will Ferrell), The Hangover centers around a douchebag (Cooper), a convicted sex offender (Galifianakis) and a wuss (Helms) who’ve lost the groom-to-be in one of the wildest nights of bachelor partying history. The only problem is, they can’t remember anything from that night and are only left with clues and a mystery to solve before the wedding the next day.

Sounds like a fun enough premise and with the right cast and a better script, it might have actually worked. Yet it falls apart in its basic story telling. Lucas and Moore create scenarios where our protagonists are constantly in peril and the impending deadline is looming. That would work if the deadline were more ominous than the peril.

In this movie, our heroes are faced with gang violence, abandoned babies, kidnapping and a tiger attack. If only they can survive those things to make it back to some chi-chi wedding in LA? I don’t care if Uncle Saul and Aunt Bessie flew in from Poughkeepsie, I’m calling the F.B.I.

That was probably my biggest problem with The Hangover. The deadline held little worth compared to the rest of the film. It’s a wedding, big deal, fifty percent of them don’t last anyways.

It’s not like retrieving the missing video tape of you cheating on your girl that you just mailed to her (Road Trip) or saving the Fraternity and its pledges who just got kicked out of college and may have the rest of their lives ruined (Old School). It’s a freaking wedding, not the end of the world. (Ladies, send your complaints to editorATfanboyplanet.com and we'll read them on the next podcast.)

The other problem with The Hangover is the cast dynamic. Cooper is being toted as the next big thing and whoever his agent is, I applaud him. Unfortunately Bradley can’t play anything other than a dick. In the right story that might work, but in a film that you really need some sympathy for some characters in a bad situation, Cooper’s Phil is anything but likable, even after they try to have you believe he’s a family man with a wife and kid at home. You never ever really feel like his character likes any of the other guys he’s partying with and in turn, never really care if he succeeds or not.

Helm’s Stu character is typical, taking a berating from his two timing girlfriend early on in the film. We’re to believe the guy is a pushover in his life, but he’s a confident dentist and he holds his own with his guy friends and seems smarter than he’s actually acting, of course foreshadowing a moral victory to come at the end of the film. Helms is likable in this movie, and his character is meant to be the straight man, but this film is not sure how to make the dynamic work, so Helms then becomes the neurotic one.

The only thing I can say about Galifianakis is creepy. I’m sure that’s what they’re going for and for anyone that’s followed Galifianakis’ comedy, that’s what he does. But to actually make him a pedophile who drugs people… well, I’m not sure if that’s funny just yet.

Making light of him going to a Jonas Brothers' concert and having him not allowed within 100 feet of an elementary school doesn’t say Old School to me… it says Little Children. With that being said, Galifianakis is still good in the role, and provides a lot of the strange comedy in this film. Meant to be the buffoon, Zach is no Will Ferrell, but he tries his best.

The other part of the film that’s disappointing is the lack of any actual real side effects of a real hangover. There’s a great scene where Helms wakes up and the whole room is moving with him that really captures the feel of what a hangover is. Helms gives a small and obligatory vomit a few minutes later, but then everybody is pretty much in good shape to go on an adventure. Where’s the excessive water drinking, the shakes, the resistance to any kind of greasy food? Give me a little dose of that.

Other than that, The Hangover drags. Once the bits are set up there’s potential for comedy, but in between then, the main leads of the film aren’t especially likable and you find yourself waiting for them to just do something, anything funny, unlike Old School where you could just watch Vince Vaughn or Will Ferrell and be smiling on your way to a full out laugh.

It does have some nice surprises and a couple of good cameos, including an appearance from personal fave Ken Jeong (Knocked Up, Role Models), and overall, I didn’t hate it, but it’s sad when the absolutely funniest part of the movie is the last thirty seconds as the credits roll.

The Hangover is a satisfactory movie with a lot of laughs strewn throughout, but it just doesn’t ever fire on all cylinders at all during its runtime. I could end this review with a lousy what happens in Vegas punch line, but that would only be playing in to what the movie was going for. Fortunately, I’ve had funnier real life hangovers than this film and think I’d rather just go get drunk.

Lon Lopez

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