Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”)
If you were to make an educated guess on which director could get close to recreating the type of comedy Judd Apatow has become famous for over the last four years, Todd Phillips’ name would not be near the top of that list. With popular albeit pointless comedies like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” it’s never been Phillips’ forte to reach for anything that resembles cleverness. (Crotch pancakes, yes, witty dialogue between two main characters, not so much).
Maybe that’s why for his newest film, “The Hangover,” Phillips takes a step back and relinquishes his screenwriting duties to a couple of young scribes who also have a history of unimpressive comedies (“Rebound,” “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). Why take two lumps when you only have to take one, right?
The funny thing is, for whatever reason, the Phillips-Lucas-Moore combination works oddly well when Phillips isn’t pretending he’s still working with Will Ferrell and actually buys into the idea that less is always more. It doesn’t always happen in “The Hangover,” but the mostly unknown leading men keep the raunchy comedy from going into Tom Green-mode. And while it’s considered a dark comedy, it never crosses the line into the abyss like 1998’s “Very Bad Things,” another Las Vegas-based bachelor party movie.
As unbalanced as “The Hangover” is, actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis manage to keep the story grounded most of the time even when they’re running amuck in Sin City trying to find the friend they lost the night of his bachelor party.
When soon-to-be-groom Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is no where to be found the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, his best friends Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) and his awkward, grizzly-like future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) attempt to sort though the clues left throughout their trashed suite and locate Doug before his wedding in two days.
Evidence of their wild night, however, only leads them to more questions. Why does the valet driver think they are police officers? Why is Stu married to a stripper (Heather Graham)? How the hell does former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson know who they are? It’s all very mysterious in a sort of silly way until the third act when the whole misadventure slowly wears out.
Nevertheless, there’s still a shockingly hilarious pay off just when you think “The Hangover” can’t dig itself out of its dark-comedy hole. Add to that a strong dynamic between the three main leads and Phillips has suprisingly given us his best work to date.