Thursday, November 4, 2010
More Movies: The Hangover
Todd Phillips, 2009
The Hangover is a comedy whose structure is of a type usually seen in a thriller or a mystery film. After a few initial minutes spent establishing the four generic main characters -- the Charismatic Jerk, the Weirdo, the Square, and the Normal Guy at the Eye of the Storm -- we jump forward in time to find that mysterious events have occurred. In this case, everyone has intense hangovers (hence the title) and many of the mysterious events that have occurred are humorously bizarre. The Normal Guy is missing, which is straightforward enough, but why is there a baby in the hotel room? Why is the Square missing a tooth? Why is there a tiger in the bathroom? And why can't anyone remember what happened during the night?
The rest of the movie is a comic version of the detective caper, as the three remaining hungover men run around Las Vegas looking for their missing buddy and for clues to the events of the night before. The things they find out, and their adventures along the way, are of course pitched way over the top for comic effect. The antics are very nicely filmed, with some great exploitation of surreal settings in the continent's gaudiest city. The action is set to rap music of uneven quality.
There were three problems that kept this movie from realizing its potential. One problem is that it telegraphs its ending. There are, early on, a couple little transitional scenes of the kind that veteran movie watchers have learned to recognize as plot giveaways. A made-up example: if the camera lingers on an unopened box of ammunition as the hero walks out his door in the background, we know he will face a frustrating situation with regards to his gun sooner or later. To anyone who notices this kind of thing, it is pretty obvious from the get-go where the missing character in The Hangover is.
A second problem is that a story structured in this fashion becomes satisfying through a thorough resolution of the problems it sets up. Every strange thing that has happened must be given a compelling explanation. In The Hangover, there are several flaws in this necessary symmetry. Most notably, the men are savagely attacked at one point by a Hispanic gang for something that happened the night before. It is never revealed why these men are so very angry, nor do any consequences ensue from them shooting a bystander (for that matter, I believe that a windshield that they bash in heals itself in subsequent scenes, but I wouldn't swear to it). I assume that the original screenplay involved a few more twists and turns, and that when bits were cut to bring the film down to the magic hour-and-a-half it wasn't possible to keep the balance of cause and effect intact.
But then, perhaps I'm applying too strict a set of criteria to a light comedy. After all, not every film can be elegant, and the important thing with a comedy is that it is funny, am I right? And this brings up the third issue about The Hangover: it isn't especially funny. I did laugh at one point, but it was at a character's scream of agony upon being tasered so I don't feel especially good about it; the gag was immediately repeated two more times. The bulk of the jokes are juvenile crap about hookers and how people act funny when they are drunk and how it is funny when people act weird. At one point, a fat man falls on the ground, and a campy gay man says "It's funny, because a fat man falls on the ground." Except, a fat man falling on the ground isn't really very funny, and a campy guy indulging in schadenfreude isn't especially funny either.
Prognosis: * 1/2 -- Although well photographed, and despite making a respectable try at doing something interesting with genre and structure, The Hangover ends up being just another lame-ass American comedy.