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The Hangover

The Hangover

When I was in high school, we had to take standardized writing tests.   (It’s hard to standardize writing, but standardized tests are what school’s about, right?)  There were lots of categories – persuasive, biographical, etc.  If you were lucky, you got “imaginative.”   And you were given a setup – an unopened letter, a 30 year journey, a dying word – and asked to write the story that explains it.    I totally failed this test.

Credit the writers of “The Hangover” — Jon Lucas & Scott Moore – with creating the granddaddy of all setups.   Four guys travel to Vegas for a bachelor party.   Three of them wake up the next morning.  There’s a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken under the piano, and a baby in the closet.   One of the guys is missing a tooth.  None of them can remember a thing.  Furthermore, a few things are missing: a mattress, and the guy who was sleeping on it.  The groom.

Oh, the stories that could unfold from such a setup.  I guarantee you could give it to a hundred different writers, and get vastly, wildly different stories back from them.  About half of those stories would be really good, and a handful might be brilliant.   Sadly, the story Lucas & Moore wrote isn’t brilliant.  It’s pretty good, but still, a bit disappointing.

The three guys are Bradley Cooper, the slick, self-centered ladies’ man, Stu, the uptight and henpecked dentist (his girlfriend is so awful you know within five minutes of meeting her that he’s destined to leave her before the film is over) and Zach Galifianakis, the bride’s brother, who is… an enigma.   A child molester?   A few bricks short of a load?   Asperger’s syndrome?    Maybe.    Oh, and there’s also a groom, but he’s hardly in the movie, so it’s okay that he doesn’t have much personality to speak of.

“The Hangover” spends a little time letting us get to know these guys, and then The Night happens.   And the next day is spent trying to figure out what happened, and where the groom is.   One of the fun things about “The Hangover” is that the weirdness keeps coming – after you think you’ve seen it all, the valet brings back a cop car.   And Mike Tyson shows up at the hotel.   And there’s a naked guy in the trunk.   This is good stuff.

But what’s disappointing about it all is that everything gets explained, and nothing amounts to anything.    Basically, they got drunk and did some random, stupid stuff.  Everything remains disconnected.   The tiger has nothing to do with the baby, which as nothing to do with the mattress on the roof.   (The chicken never is explained, but really, do chickens have to be explained?)   “The Hangover” has a chance to be a great one-thing-led-to-another-and-it-all-made-sense-at-the-time flick – a film like Scorsese’s immortal “After Hours” — but completely strikes out on that count.    Yeah, some funny stuff happens, and some stuff that’s supposed to be funny (the tazer scene, for instance) happens, but none of it goes anywhere, or amounts to anything.    The thing about a great setup: it needs an even better payoff.  And “The Hangover” can’t deliver.

It’s easy to get caught up on what “The Hangover” could have been and miss what it actually is.   Really, this is a pretty funny movie.  It’s at least above average.   Galifianakis, in particular, has incredible timing and a great delivery.   Half the time he just seems to be riffing on whatever’s around him, dropping non sequiturs deadpan.   Mike Tyson dancing to Phil Collins is brilliant, and Ken Jeong has an awful lot of fun as a diminutive Asian gangster.    It’s fast-paced, quite often smart and sharp, more than occasionally hilarious.   As the old folks used to say, a good time will be had by all.

It just won’t be one you’ll particularly want to see again.  That’s all.

Recommended

  • if you’re looking for summer comedy at the theaters.   It’s better than anything else out there right now.
  • if you loved (and watched repeatedly) “Old School” and “Road Trip.”
  • if you really don’t mind forgetting a movie as soon as you’ve watched it.

Not Recommended

  • if you’re a frustrated comic or screenwriter.   You’ll spend the whole movie thinking of ways you could’ve written it better.
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