Director Todd Phillips has put together a relatively solid body of work in the male-bonding buddy-comedy genre: 2000's "Road Trip," 2003's "Old School" and this week's "The Hangover." Though formulaic, these films still manage to deliver laughs while shedding light on the nature of male friendship.
"Road Trip" looked at the ancient ritual of the cross-country drive, while "Old School" examined the malaise of the college graduate's acclimation to the real world and the disappointments therein. "The Hangover" dives into touchy territory: the bachelor party.
As "The Hangover" opens, the camera lingers on the trappings of a wedding — the lace, the flower arrangements, the dresses — as frilly cursive credits roll and delicate music plays in the background. We move to Las Vegas, the setting of the groom's bachelor party, and the aesthetic changes: The music grows harder-edged and darker, while sand, mountains and skyscrapers dominate the screen.
Weddings, we are meant to understand, are the domain of women. The only thing men get out of the bargain is the bachelor party. And really, nothing good can happen at the bachelor party, especially the Vegas bachelor party. The parties exist on a sliding scale of bad, from "We probably shouldn't tell anyone about that" to "The wedding's off because I'm doing a stretch in Chino."
Toward the latter end of that spectrum resides the adventure of Doug (Justin Bartha) and his groomsmen, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis). After a night of blackout drunkenness, Phil, Stu and Alan realize they've stolen a cop car, destroyed their posh hotel suite, kidnapped a baby and stolen a tiger.
And that's the least of their worries: Doug is missing, and they have no idea where he is. They have 48 hours to find him and get him back to California before the bride and her parents figure out what's going on.
The movie is almost a whodunit because the evening's events are never shown in their entirety. It's unfortunate that so many of the gags in "The Hangover" have been spoiled by its commercials, because the absurdities that pile up on the hapless group of friends would have been fun to see without warning.
If there's a breakout star in this group, it's the stand-up comedian-cum-actor Mr. Galifianakis. Like Will Ferrell before him in "Old School," Mr. Galifianakis plays a perfect man-child, the oddball whose awkwardness within the group cements the quartet's bonding. Mr. Cooper's rakish instigator and Mr. Helms' spineless dentist are both funny in their own right, but Mr. Galifianakis steals the show.
Not for the children, "The Hangover" earns its restricted rating with salty language throughout, saving (most of) the nudity for a photo montage during the closing credits that fills in many of the blacked-out gaps. Leave the kids at home, round up a group of guys and head out to the theater for a good time.
TITLE: "The Hangover"
RATING: R (pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material)
CREDITS: Directed by Todd Phillips, written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
WEB SITE: http://hangovermovie.warnerbros.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS