Some unlucky bastards rue the sins of male celebratory debauchery in The Hangover, a bachelor-party film that really doesn't focus on the party itself. Director Todd Phillips and his perfect cast are more interested in the penalties of unbridled pre-wedding behavior—and how extreme, balls-out partying can eventually lead to a punch in the face from Mike Tyson.
Phillips is no stranger to the art of misbehaving males. His Road Trip and Old School were hilariously introspective looks at guys behaving like assholes with the help of intoxicants and bare female breasts. Yet, as sophomoric and politically incorrect as those films were, they were nothing but primers for what unfolds in this latest ode to misbehaving Neanderthals. This sucker is the granddaddy of party films.
But I mentioned before, we never really see the party. With a couple of days to spare before their friend's wedding, four guys head for Las Vegas and intend to have the time of their lives. We see them on top of a hotel doing shots of Jägermeister and toasting the social crimes that are about to commence. Then we see them waking up.
Stu (Ed Helms) the pussy-whipped dentist, is missing a tooth and wearing a wedding ring. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) the group oddball, spies a tiger in the bathroom when he's taking a piss. Phil (Bradley Cooper), the resident ladies' man, is wearing a hospital tag. But all of these problems are lightweight compared to the main dilemma: Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom-to-be, is missing.
The trio (with a baby they found in the closet) can't remember anything about the night before, and must retrace their steps in an effort to retrieve their lost friend. This leads them to the wedding chapel where Stu married a sweet hooker (Heather Graham), a confrontation with gun-wielding thugs and, yes, Mike Tyson, the proprietor of the tiger in their suite.
The material here is the sort of stuff that could result in direct-to-video trash if placed in the wrong hands. Luckily, Phillips is a trash master, and his actors are capable and willing garbage men. They elevate the proceedings to something genuinely hilarious.
Cooper, so good as the baddie in Wedding Crashers, is flawless as the troop leader. While he is playing the straight man here, he injects just that right touch of mischief to make Phil as funny as the dummies surrounding him. Helms represents the wild man in every reserved person; once Stu gets some drug-laced Jäger in his system, all bets are off.
But the man you will hear the most about is Galifianakis, a bearded comedic genius. The demented stand-up comic has made blessed appearances in cult comedy programs like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Wonder Showzen, and his work here should qualify him as a "bankable comedic star," as long as the material allows him to be subversive and more than a little weird. Galifianakis knows weird, and he knows it well.
This is one of those movies where you'll find yourself laughing at taboo humor (like a baby getting hit with a car door). Some things are so shocking that there is no choice but to laugh. Sure, the laughter is tainted by a touch of guilt, but that's part of the fun.
There's already talk of a sequel, and I'm curious where things could possibly go from Vegas. My vote is for a male-bonding camping trip or a European trek. I only hope that the premise they come up with will provide another chance to see Mike Tyson punching Galifianakis in the face, because that will never get old.