Once upon a time, “dude films”—the artistic antipode of “chick flicks”—involved some unwavering combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis, evil people with accents and a whole lot of high-caliber weaponry. But actors have aged and times have changed. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of directors like Todd Phillips (Old School), Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Greg Mottola (Superbad) and David Wain (Role Models), a new school of dude film has emerged. Mixing raunchy comedy, smart writing, lowbrow hijinks and a sentimental undercoating of staunchly heterosexual male bonding, these films have proven themselves box office winners.
Phillips’ newest film, The Hangover, sticks with the winning formula. It starts with a simple but clever premise: Four friends drive to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. The next morning, three of them wake up with the mother of all hangovers only to find they’ve lost the groom. Is he lost, kidnapped, dead? To this basic, booze-fueled mystery framework, producers have added a notable cast of funnymen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis as the hapless groomsmen) and some background ringers (Rachael Harris from “Reno 911!” and Rob Riggle from “The Daily Show”). All they need to do is fabricate some outrageous circumstance and turn on the cameras.
The “anything goes” setup of The Hangover basically allows the filmmakers to explore whatever random madness comes to mind. As our three protagonists try to retrace their hazy, crazy night in Vegas, they encounter tigers, babies, hookers, Taser-crazy cops, Chinese mobsters and Mike Tyson. As in previous Phillips’ efforts (Road Trip and Old School, certainly), plot isn’t as important as the ensuing hijinks.
Arguably, the cumulative effect isn’t quite as outrageous as it could (or probably should) be. Sure, it’s wild; but is it any more wild than a “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” commercial? The Hangover does stick with the currently hip notion that female nudity is verboten but male nudity is outrageously funny. Honestly, having seen Will Ferrell, Jason Segel, John C. Reilly and now Zach Galifianakis go pantsless, I’m kind of over the shock value. What else you got? Strippers? Used condoms? Rohypnol? Meh. Even though the script by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore fails to deliver any unforgettable, envelope-pushing moments along the lines of There’s Something About Mary (hair gel, flaming dogs) or American Pie (baked goods, wind instruments), it is consistently amusing and represents a real uptick in quality from a couple of writers who gave us such lackluster efforts as Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Ultimately, fans of Phillips’ previous efforts will nurse sufficient belly laughs from The Hangover’s post-drunken shenanigans. The dialogue is funny, the situations are slightly naughty and the seemingly mismatched leads have some real chemistry. Ed Helms (testing the water outside of “The Daily Show” and “The Office”) does convincing character work as a henpecked dentist. Comedian Zach Galifianakis is his usual strange self, but the script actually gives him a bit of character to work with as the tagalong weirdo who just wants to fit in. Mike Tyson is surprisingly amusing in his cameo role (expressing an uncharacteristic love for Phil Collins). Appearances by Heather Graham (as an “escort”) and Jeffrey Tambor (briefly showing up as the father of the bride) provide fewer surprises—but they’re just minor selections in an otherwise generous party platter of manly laughs.
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