(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Sasha Barese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Brooks, Rob Riggle. Directed by Todd Phillips.
The bachelor party is an ages-old tradition, a rite of passage in which single men transition from being men to being grooms. It’s the last hurrah for close friends as they lose one of their own to marriage, bidding goodbye forever to his independence and his cojones.
Such is the situation for Doug Billings (Bartha), whose groomsmen plan on taking him to Vegas for a night to remember. Phil Wenneck (Cooper) is the irresponsible one, married and missing the life of a single alpha male. He hopes to reclaim that, at least for one night. Stu Price (Helms) is a henpecked dentist, mortally afraid of his girlfriend (Harris) who is a world-class bitch, but he’s determined to propose to her at the wedding anyway – with his grandmother’s engagement ring, no less. Along for the ride is Alan (Galifianakis), the obese brother of the bride who has a thing about recreational drug use and gambling.
The quartet raise a glass of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace, then head out for a night of debauchery. When they wake up in their hotel room the next morning, they find it completely trashed. They have absolutely no memory of what occurred the night before. Stu is missing a tooth and wearing a wedding ring. The groom-to-be is nowhere in sight, and there’s a tiger in their bathroom. And where did that baby come from?
The boys have a limited amount of time to piece together what happened during their lost night and find the missing groom so they can get him to the wedding on time. Along the way they have to dodge a diminutive Chinese gangster (Jeong) with a real rude streak, two dim-witted but sadistic cops and Mike Tyson, owner of the tiger in question. Time and the odds are against them, but this is Vegas and anything can happen.
Director Phillips (Old School) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) have hit a home run. This is one of the best-written comedies in years. Nearly every situation is funny as is most of the dialogue. Phillips has cast an excellent ensemble, mostly from television, and is rewarded with some career-making performances, starting with Galifianakis, who resembled John Belushi physically, but has a personality all his own. He will be catapulted into a stratum with guys like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel – and who knows, maybe alongside guys like Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey.
This is also a career-making turn for Cooper, who shows potential as a leading man, and has since his turn in the TV series “Alias.” Here he finally fulfills that potential and makes good use of his considerable charm. The character of Phil could very easily descend into obnoxious cliché, but Cooper makes him believable. Helms rises above his work on “The Office” and shows that he has far more depth and range than most give him credit for.
I have always liked Heather Graham as a comedic actress since her appearance in the Austin Powers series, and she also shows remarkable range as well. The stripper with a heart of gold is a hoary cliché in the film industry, and Graham pulls it off without sinking to formula. Her Jade is a woman with dreams and hopes who has no reasonable chance to climb beyond where she is right now, and yet she still believes. There’s a little bit of poignancy to the role that the likable Graham is perfect for.
This is a movie that has flown beneath the radar, overshadowed by much higher-profile releases, and proves to be a pleasant surprise. The critical praise for the movie has been loud and well-deserved. To be fair, there are a few false steps that the movie takes, primarily in the character of the bitchy girlfriend who might have fit the film’s ethos a bit better if she had some redeeming quality. She’s there mainly to serve as a comic foil for Helms, who doesn’t actually need one here. And, quite frankly, this is a guy’s movie. A lot of women may not necessarily find this as funny or as clever as men do.
Still, any criticisms you might level at the movie have to be minor. I’m all for pleasant surprises and The Hangover is just that, a movie with a premise that in less capable hands could be just crudeness for the sake of being crude. Instead, we get a marvelous comedy that makes you laugh without asking you to leave your brain behind. Color me impressed.
REASONS TO GO: Breakout performances by Cooper, Helms and especially Galifianakis. A smartly-written comedy that relies on believable characters and outrageous situations for its humor.
REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a movie intended for men; some women may find it offensive and not funny.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing remotely suitable for family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The characters stay in room 2452, which adds up to 13, which is meant to be a theme for the bad luck the characters experience throughout the movie.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: On the 2-disc deluxe edition, there is an interactive Map of Destruction which details where the movie was filmed. There are also pictures taken by the missing camera (which has been heavily promoted in the advertising of the DVD). There is also a feature on actor Ken Jeong and how he developed his character.
FINAL RATING: 8/10