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Three wanton groomsmen lose their betrothed best bud while on a bachelorific bender in Sin City.
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No comedy can be truly great without taking you on a rollercoaster of emotion, with a low for every high and a tear for every laugh. The Hangover is a surprise delight, a potential new classic.
Even the opening scenes tell you this is no regular, light-weight comedy with its serious tone and dark music. There's a good mix of uncomfortable, nearly squeamish humor along with the flat-out broad hilarity, but the heavy stuff is never far below the surface.
That's why the whole thing works so damned well. There's real danger, and it's not just of the physical variety. At stake is a guy's future, Doug the missing groom's. If he doesn't make his wedding, what chance is he going to have to make it up to his fiancee? And even if they do find him, will he be all right?
Unlike a lot of comedies of the Apatow variety, The Hangover never stops upping the ante throughout, appropriate I guess for a film set in the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas.
Even in the heightened reality of Sin City, there's an underlying feeling of groundedness though. Instead of feeling like a bunch of guys who think they're funny, the humor comes from unexpected circumstances and the often ridiculous (although perfectly understandable) reactions the characters have to them.
These are a bunch of guys we all know -- the dentist trapped in a terrible relationship (a wonderful Ed Helms), the good-looking buddy who's a bit of a jerk and probably not nearly as smooth as he thinks (Bradley Cooper), and the loser brother of the bride who's not the sharpest tool in the shed.
When the father of the bride (Jeffrey Tambor) lends the guys his vintage Mercedes for the roadtrip to Vegas, you know it's not going to end well. But you'll never believe just how much the bachelor party gets away from them, from discovering Mike Tyson's tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet to an unscheduled wedding chapel visit to a naked Jack-in-the-box gag that's about as original as anything I've seen in years.
The Hangover says a lot about friendship as well -- from the asshole friend who's the only one who calls it as it is, to the discomfort of being stuck with friends of your friend, without the guy who's the only common link between you.
Heather Graham is terrific as the stripper / escort Jade in a role that could easily have been as much of a throwaway as that of the fiancee who is beautiful but utterly flat as an actress. Graham on the other hand has a beautiful chemistry with Ed Helms, obviously an actor to watch, and makes the most of every second of her screen time.
It's hard to think of the Jon Stewart Show's Rob Riggle outside the show that made him famous. But he like Helms pulls off the transition from sketch humor to a more narrative style with ease in a particularly sadistic (although hysterically funny) scene.
The audience was obviously on board throughout the film, although there were many times when I got the sense that the laughter was nervous or even a little embarrassed. It was no less genuine for that though.
One downfall of a lot of recent comedies -- like the ultimately disappointing Observe and Report -- is that they attempt to be edgy and brave but fall down in the eleventh hour by crapping out with some unsupported sap like empty moralizing, or by just not going all the way.
The Hangover is not guilty of wimping out in the last act. In fact, the montage at the end is definitely worth staying for -- especially for the extra bit of cringe. It also explains everything the preceding film didn't -- except for the chicken.