There’s just something special about Todd Phillips movies. Like infectious songs that seem preposterously simple, only to later worm themselves into your ear, his films are unusually memorable and endearing. Even the otherwise lukewarm Starsky & Hutch remake from a few years ago (starring Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller) is a film I often find myself recalling scenes from. Of course, no mention of his work can be complete without a nod to the modern classic that is Old School. And with The Hangover, Todd Phillips continues the tradition.
Like most of his previous films, the set up is simple and elegant: three groomsmen take their best friend Doug for a bachelor party in Las Vegas. Except that when they wake up the morning after their night of debauchery, their suite is in ruins, there’s a chicken on the loose, a baby in the closet and a tiger in the bathroom.
Oh, and the groom is missing, and they can’t remember a thing about the previous night.
In the hopes of finding their missing friend before his wedding the next day, the men try and piece together the events of the previous night from the scattered clues they have: henpecked dentist Stu (Ed Helms) has lost a tooth, party-animal Phil (Bradley Cooper) was in the hospital at some point, and oddball Alan(Zach Galifianakis) is… well, he just is.
From there it’s a short hop until stolen cop cars, strippers, naked Asian gangsters and Mike Tyson get thrown into the mix (naturally). The film manages to pack quite a bit into its lean running time without ever seeming bloated or rushed (there is also an unrated edition with ten minutes extra, but this review is based on the original cut). Like most good comedies, it is funny from beat to beat, line to line, and scene to scene, with plenty of memorable, quotable dialogue (mostly courtesy Galifianakis’s Alan).
But what The Hangover gets pitch-perfect, what it nails, is men. Phillips captures a certain indefinable set of behaviours in his male characters that most filmmakers sacrifice for the sake of making them better dramatic tools. So yes, men will take pride in the fact that they can’t remember the previous night’s hard partying; we will not blink when the stub given to valet parking returns a police car — and of course, we will use the siren and the megaphone inappropriately. These men do inhabit a comedic world that sometimes veers towards Monty Python levels of surreality, but for once in a Hollywood film this isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, this loving care shown to its men does come with certain pitfalls: the women in the film are generally underutilised (Heather Graham especially) or reduced to shrill harpies, or in the case of its supporting cast, a parade of cardboard-thin stereotypes.
Then again, I suppose anybody expecting a carefully-calibrated, heart-rending emotional journey from this is surely barking up the wrong tree. The Hangover does exactly what it sets out to do: take you on a wild weekend ride with characters who, for all their quirks and failings, you do end up liking, and wouldn’t mind seeing again (plans for a sequel are, in fact, afoot).
And like most good wild weekends, you’ll be remembering parts of this film and chuckling to yourself for years to come.