Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Barrese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachael Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Burks, Rob Riggle, Cleo King, Bryan Callen
Written by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Directed by: Todd Phillips
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material
Running Time: 100
Date: 30/05/2009

The Hangover (2009)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Headache Trip

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Here's a classic case of expectations vs. the actual experience, which in my case worked heavily against the film. The trailer for The Hangover is two minutes of hilarious jokes, married to what looks like a great idea for a film. It's also the most misleading trailer in recent memory, perhaps of all time. The actual movie is not funny, and in fact is better described in terms like "grim" or "sour." The movie opens to a flash-forward to one of the funniest lines in the trailer ("Yeah... that's not gonna happen") but the line is no longer funny, and a sinking feeling settles in. This is going to be one of those unpleasantly tense experiences in which the characters and the moviemakers may believe they're spreading humor, but instead it turns into misery.

The ingenious setup may once have worked in an early draft of the screenplay: four buddies head to Vegas for a bachelor party. When they wake up in the morning, none of them has any memory of the night's events, but the results are evident. There's a tiger, a chicken and a baby in their hotel room. One friend, Stu (Ed Helms), is missing a tooth. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is wearing a hospital bracelet. Stu also appears to have been married at some point during the night. Worse, the groom (Justin Bartha) is missing.

It should have been a great comedy/mystery but the shadow of the boys' consequences hangs heavy over everything. (The tone is oppressive rather than silly.) Jokes about what to do with the baby fall terribly flat and nervous phone calls home to wives and girlfriends are irritating. A gay, Chinese gangster manages to discriminate against both groups. Many jokes make no logical sense. The fourth friend, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is painted as a slightly disturbed loner/social misfit who latches onto his new buddies in an unhealthy way, as well as saying and doing increasingly odd things; he's apparently aiming for laughs, but these antics land sickeningly, with silence.

Somehow, even the jokes that worked in the trailer don't work anymore; it's as if the guy who cut the trailer had more of a knack for timing than the filmmakers behind this sloppy mess. (Director Todd Phillips, the man behind films like Old School and Starsky and Hutch, usually relies heavily on the luck of casting, which does not serve him here.) Even Mike Tyson's appearance seems tired and too slow. The movie does have one great scene, however, when Stu plays piano and sings a song about their travails; I'd like to see this brilliant little ditty get an Oscar nomination for Best Song. But it's better to skip the movie and wait for it to show up on YouTube.

Would I have liked this film better if I went in cold, having never seen the trailer? Perhaps, but I'll never know.

Note: the "extreme" edition runs about 8 minutes longer, but I have not seen it.

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