The gist of the plot is a bachelor party in Vegas gone askew. Four dudes go to Vegas: There's a dentist, Stu (Ed Helms), who lies to his wife; Phil (Bradley Cooper), a school teacher/cool guy happy to get away from the wife and kids; the nice guy groom, Doug (Justin Bartha), and Doug's brother-in-law, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), an oddball/weirdo/idiot savant/moronic pest. After a night offscreen partying they wake up in shambles-the hotel suite is trashed, a chicken, a tiger and a baby have all appeared out of nowhere and one of them (Doug) is missing. Neither they nor the audience has a clue as to what led to the wreckage. Then the race is on to nurse their hangovers, put some pieces back together, find their friend and get back to the wedding in time.
What sets this movie apart is that we're not treated to a bunch of flashbacks telling the story as the characters go, "Ahh, that's what happened," as they get closer to their goal. What we get is what they get: nothing. We follow the characters as they put two and two together and the clues begin to fall into place. And we move right along with them, trailing their sick skid mark of a night, trying to fill in the gaps. In essence, we are not simply watching a comedy road-trip-bachelor-party-gone-wrong (this is no Very Bad Things) we are actually participating in a kind of messed up whodunit detective story.
While the set-up is a little long, by the time the dilemma unfolds we're right there with them. Credit goes to Phillips for actually giving it the feel of a journey rather than just gross out/bad taste jokes.
Delivering an extreme departure from their earlier work, writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) provide some of the best dialogue I've ever heard, most of which I cannot print here. But trust me these are lines you've never heard in a movie before.
In spite of all the ludicrous events, the characters emerged as more than cardboard caricatures-even if it took a while to warm up to Alan's eccentricities. Daily Show alum Rob Riggle steals the show. Heather Graham sufficiently pops in as the spunky hooker-with-heart-of-gold role. And Mike Tyson's Phil Collin's sing-along is a stroke of brilliance. While a "Who Let the Dogs Out" segment seemed overkill, as did spin-offs on Rain Man and Beautiful Mind, Phillip's ability to tie all together at the end is genius. Even after some not-too-sincere attempts at decency and morals, it's still a sick twisted mess of a movie-and that's good.
The Hangover ★★★✩✩
Starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R.