You want to make a comedy about guys who learn the true meaning of bromance on a horrible weekend in Vegas, but you can't spend a lot of money on talent. Which actors do you cast? The leading role of Phil, the smart, energetic audience surrogate, might have suited Jim Carrey or Vince Vaughn, so go with Bradley Cooper, who was Carrey's pal in Yes Man and Vaughn's preppie torturer in Wedding Crashers. Steve Carell would have been perfect for Stu, the amiable, henpecked dentist; but Ed Helms, Carell's cohort on The Daily Show and The Office, costs so much less. Now for Alan, the roly-poly cute guy with a surfeit of energy and a sociopathic streak: can't afford Jack Black, give stand-up comic Zach Galifianakis a chance. OK, we got ourselves a movie!
The Hangover is a pretty swell movie, according to early returns from critics, who on the Rotten Tomatoes website give the picture a generous 85% approval rating. (The Will Ferrell Land of the Lost, the weekend's other big release, has so far earned an almost historically abysmal 6% that's right, six. As in: You got every answer wrong on this test, young man, and you didn't even spell your name right.) The reviewers see The Hangover as a return to top form by director Todd Phillips, whose raucous buddy comedy Old School was Ferrell's first real hit. On the new film: "Ninety minutes of pure perverse laughter." Julian Roman, MovieWeb. "Just might be the funniest movie of the decade." Greg Maki, Easton (Md.) Star-Democrat. (See the Top 10 Movie Bromances.)
Er... no. Unless your definition of pure perversity includes the portrayal of a convicted pedophile ("I'm not supposed to be within 200 feet of a school," says Alan, "or a Chuck-E Cheese") who's given weekend custody of a baby; or if your idea of the decade's funniest movie would contain a scene where our heroes get repeatedly tasered before a class of cheering children. You'll also need an indulgence for racial (Asian) and sexual (gay) stereotyping, and the sight of inappropriate gentlemen with their pants off. All right, granted, that last bit is always funny. The rest is about as easy to endure as a real hangover.
The script, by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, sends four guys Doug the groom (Justin Bartha), plus Alan, his fiancée's oddball brother (Galifianakis), and Phil and Stu to Las Vegas for a booze-babes-and-baccarat bachelor party two nights before the wedding. It'll be, one promises, a "night we'll never forget." Next morning, three of them come groggily to in their suite. With them are a tiger in the bathroom and an infant in the closet. Missing, to their horror, are the groom, one of Stu's front teeth and any memory of what happened the night before.
Back in 2006 the film Unknown threw five men into a dungeon and robbed them all of any recollection of how they got there. The Hangover takes this scientifically suspicious multiple-amnesia gimmick, references about a dozen Vegas movies (from Leaving Las... to What Happens in... to Rain Man) and applies all the numbingly familiar tropes of the bromance comedy that have made this flourishing subgenre as rigid in its conventions as Kabuki theater.
Whether the guys in bromances are dating each other (I Love You, Man), going to bed with each other (Superbad) or marrying each other (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), the common thread is the assumption by men of the traditional movie male and female roles. The women in The Hangover, with the fleeting exception of Heather Graham, who plays a hooker with a baby, are creatures either to ignore or flee from. Phil's wife makes no impression, Doug's bride-to-be is a briefly seen figure of increasing anxiety and Stu's longtime girlfriend is a shrew from Shrewsville. She's so stridently castrating that Stu's climactic display of spine kind of like the chestbuster scene from Alien, only dorsal is a given from the get-go.
It's that way with almost all the humor here: virtually every joke either is visible long before it arrives or extends way past its expiration date. There's no question that Phillips's Old School had a high quotient of shambling fun, and he can frame catastrophe with a certain comedic elegance, but he's hamstrung by another reductive script from Lucas and Moore, whose Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past boasted clever structures and no acuity at all in the character and gag departments. Even Galifianakis's pervy charm, and a deeply weird cameo by Mike Tyson, can't save The Hangover. Whatever the other critics say, this is a bromance so primitive it's practically Bro-Magnon.