Is there a joke more familiar and fagged-out than the bachelor party? Didn't think so. I dragged my ass to The Hangover like a man awaiting execution by cliché. Set in Las Vegas, of all trite places, the script is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who perpetrated the crimes of Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Director Todd Phillips has better cred, what with Road Trip and Old School, but could he save this shipwreck-in-the-making?
Better believe it. The Hangover disarmed me by starting at the end, the morning after the bachelor party. Phil (Bradley Cooper), a married teacher, is on the phone telling the bride that he, his friend Stu (Ed Helms), a pussy-whipped dentist, and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the bride's pervy brother, have lost Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom-to-be. Could this movie about a bachelor party actually leave out the party? It could. And we're all the better for it. To watch these hungover guys — they've actually been drugged — struggle awake in a trashed Vegas suite featuring a burning couch, a crying baby, a sizzling stripper (Heather Graham, good to see you), a live chicken and a Bengal tiger owned by Mike Tyson is, well, a sight gag for the time capsule. I couldn't help laughing. Fellow critics (though the hypocrites might deny it) laughed too. Funny? The Hangover rocks the house with funny.
What else to know? That Galifianakis — spell it, say it, learn it — is the new rock star of comedy; that Helms, of The Office, can crack you up when you least expect it; that Cooper, from Wedding Crashers, can spoof his leading-man looks like a born goofball; that Tyson, doing an air-drum solo to "In the Air Tonight" as a prelude to a punch, is a knockout; that even when the movie falters (the Taser scene), it picks up in no time (Ken Jeong and those Skittles? Wait for it!). The Hangover ain't art, but Phillips has shaped the hardcore hilarity into the summer party movie of all our twisted dreams.