Ever wondered what would result if you put Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas,” a bromance-comedy of the Judd Apatow sort, and John Cassavettes’ “Husbands” in a blender and hit spin? Your answer would be “The Hangover,” an over-the-top comedy of men behaving badly in the absence of girlfriends or wives.
The film’s story centers around an epic “lost weekend” in Vegas, with decadence that even Dr. Gonzo would be proud to call his own: Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married and his buddies Phil and Stu (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) decide to take him out for a stag party in Sin City, along with Doug’s soon-to-be brother- in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis, in a role that once would have gone to John Belushi). The guys are a study in extremes: While Justin may be your basic good-husband material, Phil is a hopeless scoundrel looking to score, while Stu is a hen-pecked “nice guy,” taking cell-phone calls from his controlling girlfriend every other minute. Alan for his part is an immature, awkward dweeb, who desperately wants to be “one of the guys.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” says Doug’s fiancee’s father, with a wink and a nudge, but the dudes soon learn how true that is. After an absolute black hole of an evening, they wake up in their trashed hotel suite in a daze: “Why don’t we remember a goddamn thing from last night?” asks Stu. “Obviously because we had a great f-cking time,” says Phil. But Phil has a hospital bracelet on his wrist, Stu is missing a tooth, and Alan finds a toddler in the bedroom. And who was that lady striding out of the suite in stripper heels? Worst of all, there’s a wedding to get to, but the groom has gone missing, and they face the prospect of returning without him.
What follows is like an alcoholic’s remix of “Memento,” as the bros follow the little clues from the night before to piece together the missing details of their debauchery. And each new revelation is worse than the one that precedes it, leading them from a quickie-marriage chapel to a police station and — terror of terrors — to Mike Tyson’s home.
The script, by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who are fortunate to still have careers after the horrendous “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) offers plenty of masturbation jokes and gross-out moments, but it’s got a great sense of the absurd as well. Galifianakis’ Alan gets a huge number of sly, twisted one-liners, like when Stu drives to pick up Phil at his workplace, a junior high, and Alan casually notes “I’m not supposed to be within 200 feet of a school.”
Director Todd Phillips is no stranger to male excess, having made the 1998 documentary “Frat House,” in which he underwent a fraternity’s “hell-week” initiation on camera, as well as the “Animal House”-influenced comedies “Road Trip” and “Old School.”
Sure, Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” took a similar situation — mismatched buddies out for one last fling before one of them gets married — and found much more to say about male relationships, codependency, and escaping from midlife despondency through womanizing and booze. But “The Hangover” has it’s own moral lesson, summed up in the immortal words of Mike Tyson: “Like you said, we tend to do dumb s-it when we’re f-cked up.”
While virtually every guy I know laughed long and hard at this film, women may find themselves wincing more, especially when the main female characters are a clueless fiancee (Sasha Barrese), a shrewish castrating bitch (Rachael Harris) and a totally hot hooker with a heart-of-gold (Heather Graham, who else?). Like “Husbands,” though, “The Hangover” does not paint a pretty picture — male emotional blockage being channeled into wanton excess — but it does offer a certain honesty.
A final note: the filmmakers have totally backloaded the ending credits reel with a montage of scenes showing the delirious carnage of the evening no one could remember. This is the payoff: Don’t walk out early and miss five solid minutes of laughs. Best viewed after a few shots.