Sunday 22 May 2011

From the archive: "The Hangover"

The screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have mined a profitable seam with scripts that feature easily pitched concepts, two or three standout jokes good for the trailer, and a lot of filler in between. They're also prolific: in the last six months alone, their names have featured on Four Christmas and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and now they bring us a fitful ladcom, which confirms my suspicion Lucas and Moore are pushing their luck, not to mention taking the studios for a ride. The Hangover is a road trip at heart: a quartet of guys in their thirties and forties set off to Vegas for a bachelor night to remember; the wrinkle is that, the next morning, none of them can. Three of the four - Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - wake up the next day with the hangover from hell and a series of questions to answer. How did dentist Stu lose one of his teeth? Why is there a tiger in the hotel suite bathroom? And where's the groom gone?

Directed by Todd Phillips (Road Trip), the film doesn't do much to overturn the charge that the New American Comedy is an essentially and exclusively male phenomenon. There isn't a film in existence that couldn't be brightened by the appearance of Heather Graham - she'd have worked wonders on Tarkovsky - but casting her as a breastfeeding stripper (in effect, a set of multitasking boobs) hardly seems the giant step forward in the depiction of women these films have been crying out for, and the same goes for the nagging, clueless or frigid other halves these boys leave behind, too. Of the leads, Cooper coasts through The Hangover's 100 minutes on an impermeable layer of sub-McConaughey insincerity; Helms, a former Daily Show correspondent more frequently seen in small, often amusing cameos, is only really allowed to impose himself during a belated Elton John impersonation; which allows weirdy-beardy stand-up Galifianakis to run off with most of his scenes as the borderline autistic Alan, an individual with his own unique take on post-9/11 airport security, the preferred spices of wild cats and the advantages of the humble satchel ("Indiana Jones has one"), and who ends up wearing a baby in a papoose - a joke repeated, without inflection, from Phillips' Old School.

Phillips made his name with 1998's Frat House, an acclaimed documentary about college hazing rituals, and there's a sense he hasn't quite got fratboy humour out of his system, which here leads to a lot of naked male behinds, vomit, errant condoms, date rape drugs and raucous, sometimes violent behaviour: Galifianakis is tasered in the face and later thumped during an unironic cameo from Mike Tyson, absolving the leads' behaviour with the line "we all do dumb shit when we're fucked up" - some comfort there, no doubt, for the woman he was jailed for raping. I can't say I didn't laugh during The Hangover, but it struck me as coming from somewhere down towards the thinner end of the comedy wedge, perhaps because Lucas and Moore draw thumbnail sketches rather than fully-formed characters, and write skits rather than scenes. Any narrative development in their films is arbitrary and erratic; there's nothing to hold this, or Four Christmases, or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past together save their initial pitch and whatever snickering the audience is content to provide. The best films in the current comedy renaissance - The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Stuck on You, John Hamburg's I Love You, Man from earlier this year - allow us to catch their characters growing up and evolving underneath all their obligatory gross-out; but here - as in something like Wedding Crashers - we're asked to spend more time than is especially funny or edifying with bleary, puking, incorrigible little boys whose antics would very quickly become tiresome in real life, and who'll most likely end up making the same lairy mistakes all over again the minute the end credits have rolled.

(June 2009)

The Hangover Part II opens nationwide on Thursday.

No comments:

Post a Comment