What DID happen in Vegas? ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What DID happen in Vegas?

The Hangover
My rating:

(Not Coming to M'sia is a new label for reviews of recent films that, for various reasons, aren't being screened in Malaysian cinemas. Said reasons likely consisting of wussy cinema distributors and jerkass censors. But I can watch 'em and Imma review 'em anyway. Guess how, suckas?)

I'm a funny guy. No, really. I have a sense of humour that I'm reasonably proud of, and in social settings I've been known to raise some chuckles, a few chortles, even a guffaw or two. (And sometimes even intentionally.) But I gotta say, the modern American comedy film is one of those things I tend to find, well, not funny. I dunno why. In almost every one I've watched this year, I've been groaning at how stale and forced the jokes are much more than I've been laughing, even during the big comic setpieces. The Hangover was a film that came recommended by no less than three friends, and I was dreading having to meet them again after watching it and facing their incredulous cries of "Haahh? You didn't like it?? You didn't find it funny?!?"

Okay-lar. It's pretty funny.

Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) head to Vegas for a bachelor night with their best friend (and Alan's brother-in-law-to-be) Doug (Justin Bartha). But the next morning, they wake up with a splitting hangover and no memory of the events of the night before - and a missing Doug. As they race to find their missing friend and get him back in time for his wedding, they have to deal with the fallout of an incredibly wild, drunken night - which begins with Stu missing a tooth, a tiger in their hotel room, a baby in the closet, and a parking valet ticket for a police cruiser.

I watched this movie twice actually, the second time after I'd decided to review it. And I actually liked it better the second time. I still didn't laugh much, but I appreciated the sheer over-the-top absurdity of the plot more, which is what the movie does best. No worries about contrived situations or stale jokes here - the more our heroes get battered, beaten up, humiliated and freaked out, the funnier it gets. The second time I saw what they found in the trunk of their car that they just recovered, I really did LOL. The film isn't afraid to drop them into truly bizarre situations, such as when Mike Tyson (played by Mike Tyson) makes a cameo appearance and demonstrates his love of Phil Collins.

It didn't begin well though. During the first half hour, we are introduced to our three primary characters plus groom, and by this point I was already dreading the movie to come. Phil starts out as an absolute asshole - he's a schoolteacher who steals the money for a class trip to spend on the bachelor night, he's married with a kid but claims to hate his life, and he belittles his friend Stu in front of a cute hotel receptionist. I thought he was gonna be the macho overgrown fratboy moron whose douchebaggery would be played for laughs in a film that ultimately celebrates this kind of party-animal behaviour. Surprisingly, he didn't. As the movie progressed, there were less and less instances of Phil being a jerk - because he, and Stu and Alan, are too busy being carried along by the plot. Frankly, it smells like a hasty script rewrite, but I'm glad for it.

The other two leads get more character development. Stu starts off as a nerd and a wimp with a bitchy and controlling girlfriend - and he later learns that during that fateful night, he got married Vegas-style to a stripper named Jade (Heather Graham). Naturally, by movie's end he will find the nerve to dump his girlfriend, but this arc of his is somewhat underdeveloped. Jade herself makes only sporadic appearances - at one point she just suddenly shows up to help our boys out, and I found myself wondering where's the scene where Stu persuades her to help them, despite the fact that he regrets (and doesn't even remember) marrying her. The fact that we don't see this scene is a bit of a head-scratcher.

As for Alan, he contributes a fair share of the movie's laughs. He is weird, awkward and socially inept - and occasionally downright stupid - but although we're frequently laughing at him, the movie allows us to view him sympathetically instead of just derisively. In fact, it finds just the right approach to his character - he's an overgrown child, a 9-year-old boy in an adult body who desperately wants friends and tries too hard to be liked. And he can still blurt out hilariously creepy things about masturbating on a plane. That's quite an impressive balancing act that the script pulls off, and if this was another rewrite, it's done much smoother than the one on Phil's character.

And how do the actors fare in these three roles? Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis were all friends before they made this movie, and their easy rapport is another of the film's strengths. They're entirely believable as three ordinary guys (well, two ordinary guys and one not-so-much) in increasingly WTF-worthy situations. There's also able support from the aforementioned Mike Tyson, as well as Ken Jeong, who is hands down the movie's funniest character. I'd be spoiling most of the film's biggest laughs if I say too much about him. But what is Heather Graham doing in such a thankless role? Didn't she used to play leads? She does fine here, but I gotta wonder what happened to her career.

It's just as well this movie never made it to Malaysian screens - it's a hard R-rated raunchy adult comedy, with plenty of (mostly male) nudity and profane dialogue. Still, I think I would've really enjoyed watching this in a cinema, with a hundred other moviegoers laughing all around me. It really is one of the few Hollywood comedies I enjoyed in recent years; it shows uncharacteristic affection for its characters, and finds humour in their situations rather than stereotypical and annoying behaviour. If a lot more comedies learned this lesson, I wouldn't be so unjustly accused of being humourless - I wouldn't have that accusation hanging over me. See? See?


chicnchomel said...

See, see I told you it was good!

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