Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Hangover [movie review]

* Released theatrically in June; DVD release date TBA

The last time I recall a comedy being met with overwhelmingly positive reviews and a “best comedy of the year” tag it was The 40 Year Old Virgin in 2005. The Hangover has similarly garnered such acclaim and I must admit it seems I’ve missed the boat on this one. Both movies follow similar trajectories – they star relatively low wattage actors (“stars” seems like a stretch) and emerge as the sleeper hits of their respective summers. Yes, I know we’re only at the beginning of August but trust me, it’s a pretty safe call at this point. Interestingly, both feature former The Daily Show and current The Office actors in lead roles (Steve Carell in Virgin and Ed Helms in Hangover, although Helms is more part of an ensemble group). Former Daily Show contributors also pop up throughout Hangover, most notably a funny performance from Rachael Harris as Helms’ henpeckish wife.

The premise is pretty standard. Four guys take a stag roadtrip to Vegas and chaos and hilarity ensue. Along with Helms is the group’s dickish alpha male Phil (Bradley Cooper), groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha, who is such a bland actor he barely registers) and oddball Alan (Zach Galifianakis). A drunken night of debauchery leads to the “misplacement” of the groom and the group must retrace their steps and piece together what happened which, expectedly, leads to a string of shocking revelations and run-ins with Mike Tyson and an effeminate Asian crime figure (Ken Jeong), among others. Jeong’s initial appearance onscreen provides the biggest laugh of the movie but subsequent scenes featuring him fall totally flat and are the comedic low points of the movie. The Tyson cameo disappoints as well. For some reason it seemed so much more promising in the trailer.

The main ensemble of Helms, Galifianakis and Cooper work well together as a threesome with completely different character traits. Galifianakis delivers a consistently funny effort which, based on his sheer weirdness, is basically an extension of his standup comedy act. His career has flown below the radar even though IMDB lists 37 different movie and television credits since 1996. Of those credits I highly encourage anyone entertained by his unconventional humour to check out a 2005 documentary called The Comedians Of Comedy, which features himself along with some other comedian (duh) friends including the always funny Patton Oswalt. Galifianakis’ standup routine involves a stream of hilarious non sequiturs occasionally rounded out by his classically trained piano playing as he tells his jokes, which only adds to the weirdness. He also has several Comedy Central standup specials which are worth a look.

The first half of The Hangover entertained me but overall I found the movie as a whole a big letdown. It definitely has it’s moments but fails to deliver on the promise it shows at points and most certainly the hype. I’ve read and heard a number of people comment that this is the best comedy they’ve ever seen and frankly I just feel sorry for them that their standards are that low.

Rating: 6/10