"The Hangover" takes care of its target audience's needs -- the target audience being males who, after seeing director Todd Phillips' earlier (and funnier) "Old School," dreamed of joining the "Old School" fraternity. But this film left a sour taste in my mouth. Only "Daily Show" alum Ed Helms, as a buttoned-down dentist along for the ride on a chaotic Las Vegas bachelor party, got me laughing, periodically, between the not-laughing parts.
There's a sweetness to Helms that masks a sharp sense of timing, generally absent from the material. Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore worked on "Four Christmases," the one with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. If that film appealed to you, by all means, have at "The Hangover."
It belongs to the what-happened-last-night? genre typified by "Dude, Where's My Car?" Groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha) is whisked to Vegas from L.A. by his pals, smarmy schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) and massively henpecked dentist Stu (Helms), with Doug's eerie, borderline-pederast brother-in-law (Zach Galifianakis) in tow.
Next morning in their $4,200-a-night Caesars Palace villa (cue my raging class issues!) they wake up to a staggering mess. There's a tiger in one room, a baby in another. Soon the lads realize they've ingested copious amounts of the date-rape drug; run afoul of Mike Tyson; and visited a wedding chapel, where Stu apparently tied the knot with a sunshiny Vegas escort (Heather Graham, in a role that could've been cast, quite literally, with any two breasts in Hollywood).
Typical set piece: Two cops encourage a classroom full of preteens to use a Taser on our alleged rooting interests. Bam! Right in the head. Zzzzzt! Right in the 'nads! The sequence isn't good, rude slapstick; it's just painful, and Phillips goes for grotty-looking realism throughout, jamming the camera too close to the action. When do you notice things like errant camera placement and ugly lighting? When a comedy isn't giving you enough to take your mind off errant camera placement and ugly lighting, that's when.
"The Hangover" offers two female archetypes to speak of: miserable shrew and fantasy sex toy. The film's also a little bit racist, plus a little bit homophobic; our white boy-men keep running into scary African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans who want to hurt them. The end credits garner more laughs in two minutes than the previous 100 can muster. Always nice to leave 'em laughing. The movie smells like a hit, but honestly: Helms excepted, did it need to be quite so blandly cast, or quite so lamely raunchy?