You know the premise; four friends trek to Vegas for a bachelor party they'll never forget--cue the irony. They wake up in their suite the next morning to find the room trashed, a baby in their closet, a tiger in the bathroom, and Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom-to-be, missing.
"The Hangover" wants to be a character comedy, but our remaining three protagonists are too transparently archetypical to ever compellingly drive the film. You have Stu (Ed Helms), the high-strung, nerdy dentist with a bitchy girlfriend you know he's gotta dump, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) the fat, weird one whose oddball antics often feel forced, and Phil (Bradley Cooper), the self-loathing elementary school teacher and leader of the pack.
The film's biggest woes are in its payoffs (spoilers ahead). Phil says he hates his life, he pays for the trip to Vegas with bogus field trip money conned from his students, but it's never addressed thereafter, and when he returns to his wife and child by the film's end, he's been inexplicably changed by the experience. Stu has it out with his bitchy girlfriend, but it doesn't become the debilitating power-shift that the film or the characters deserve. Worst of all, it's clearly established in the first act that Doug's stepfather's borrowed car is to be handled with extreme care, so when the crew speeds to the wedding with the beaten heap of the car's remains, we expect a climactic explosion that never comes. It's bottom-line lazy comedy writing.
But ultimately, the movie wasn't written for snobs like me. It is its premise. If the phrase "People do dumb shit when they're fucked up!" sounds like an anthem to you, you'll likely to enjoy the film Phillips has crafted here. Comedy is the most subjective film genre, to the point where even theater experience and conditions play a large factor in etching an opinion. The Monday, mid-afternoon crowd of twenty may not have been the best litmus test for the successfulness of the film's gags, though the audience did laugh more frequently than I did.
Still, "The Hangover" has some inexcusable story problems, cliched protagonists, and if you'll pardon the expression, a forgettable story. Recalling some of my favorite recent comedies ("Sideways," "A Mighty Wind," last year's "Tropic Thunder"), the stories are just as successful as the jokes, and if I'm not laughing, I'm engaged. "The Hangover" is certainly good for a few chuckles, but offers little of substance beyond that, more akin to a stand-up comedy routine than a credible piece of visual storytelling.
It's disheartening to see it top the box office week after week (a sequel has already been green-lit) while more interesting, bizarre comedies like "Land of the Lost" are tossed by the wayside. "The Hangover" may thus far be 2009's undisputed king of comedy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a couple of cave men and a flamboyant fashionista will be more than willing to contest that title in the coming weeks.