The Hangover

Director    Todd Phillips
Starring    Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha
Release    5 JUN (US) 12 JUN (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


5th June 2009

Rather like how the consequences of violence are rarely shown on film, nor are the consequences of heavy boozing - sure, there are countless famous movie drunks, but when was the last time you saw a 'morning after' movie? Perhaps it's because having a protagonist spend 90 minutes on the toilet isn't much fun; perhaps it's because drunken stories are really only amusing to the recently intoxicated; maybe it's because being hung over fucking sucks. Nonetheless, Hollywood rarely abides by the maxim 'you booze, you lose'. Which is why The Hangover is so awesome.

Here we have a movie that leaves the boozy event in question - soon-to-be wed Doug's (Justin Bartha) Vegas bachelor party - unseen and worse, unremembered the following morning. With the groom strangely AWOL, the remaining wedding party - alpha male Phil (Bradley Cooper), anally retentive Stu (Ed Helms) and third wheel Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - must piece together their fuzzy memories to track down their absent friend and get his wedding back on track: think Memento as described by an alcoholic. It must have been one hell of a night: upon waking, the guys discover a baby in their hotel bathroom and things get consistently more ridiculous from there on in.

By dispensing with the trite 'wild night out' and instead focusing on the post-piss up blues, The Hangover immediately distinguishes itself from its beer-chugging brethren - it can hardly be accused of glamorising alcohol. With Sin City's bright lights still pounding at their temples, the lead threesome remain great company and never slip into smugsville - the only time someone yells "Vegas, baby!" is when it's bellowed inappropriately in the face of a six year-old. You expect to hate these partying douchebags but you'll quickly warm to their total ineptitude in the face of overwhelming insanity.

Director Todd Phillips is no stranger to buddy comedies, having brought us the excellent Old School and the not-as-awful-as-it-should-have-been Starsky & Hutch. Even without a Stiller or a Ferrell, Phillips has struck gold here - his cast is spot-on. Cooper is perfect as the off-the-leash family man turned cool guy and Helms reprises his affable doofus routine from The US Office. However, it's breakout star Galifianakis who bags the best laughs as the exquisitely weird Alan: two parts social retard to one part mad bastard. Like Seth Rogen's gravelly laugh, Galifianakis' insane cackle is always guaranteed to raise a smile. He's simply fantastic - like, John Belushi in Animal House fantastic.

With Sin City as its prime location, Phillips doesn't hold back from ladling on the absurdities, and to a winning effect - he scores a hit-rate of a belly laugh about every 30 seconds. The storyline is delightfully OTT - tight-ass Stu loses a tooth and marries a stripper, roofied-up Alan gets punched out by Mike Tyson to the sounds of Phil Collins for bumming his pet tiger and the whole gang get embroiled in a kidnap sub-plot straight out of the Coen back catalogue. Just when you think things can't get any more farcical, they do: The Hangover is the Crank of comedy.

It's a plot that's occasionally convoluted but is consistently funny, with sharp writing that doesn't lean too heavily on profanity or gross-out moments (save for one, in the brilliant mid-credits photo montage - it'll burn into your retinas). Throw in Heather Graham as a pole-dancer, Phillips' trusty profane house band and the most satisfying movie break-up scene ever ("BOOM!") and you've got a film that'll easily rival Bruno for the 'funniest movie of the summer' crown. I'll drink to that.

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