Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Movies: The Hangover

The Complete List of Movie Reviews by Michael5000

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.


Rex Parker said...

I see what you're saying, yet disagree. It's not great, by any means, but the dialogue / comic acting is superior (and I laughed more than I laugh at most of what passes for "comedy" these days, which is maybe a low bar...). The plot is asinine, true—but in this case, it doesn't really matter What happens. It's How it happens, and every actor (esp. Mr. Galifetc.) has really excellent timing / delivery (though I feel his shtick might get old very fast, if he's always going to play the same guy...) (same goes for whatshisname from "The Office").

Your whole argument about plot giveaways or whatever didn't ring true. I mean, it might be true, but who's looking for that kind of stuff in a fundamentally silly movie? "How will it end?" I can't say that question ever entered my mind. I'd have given it a marginal thumbs-up. Maybe 2.5 stars.

Yankee in England said...

A friend told me I didn't know what I was missing not having seen this movie, according to your movie review I knew exactly what I was missing.

Jenners said...

"But then, perhaps I'm applying too strict a set of criteria to a light comedy." Ummmm YEAH!!!

You need to turn your brain off to watch a movie like this. Then it is frigging hilarious!

UnwiseOwl said...

Quite possibly the movie has great depth and humour if you watch it while on the way to your own hangover situation, but is a failure the rest of the time. That's actually an interesting concept for an experimental film, and if it didn't invlove getting drunk I might test this hypothesis for myself.

Michael5000 said...

Jenners, I think if you have a different sense of humor than mine -- Rex's, yours -- than this movie might be frigging hilarious. I have no reason to doubt you. But turning your brain off, you know -- that's called "death." Or, to paraphrase our recent Vice President, Mr. Cheney, you have to go to the cinema with the brain you've got. I don't TRY not to be entertained, you know.

UnwiseOwl said...

Sure you don't...Mr. Michael "Sounds Terrible" 5000.

Michael5000 said...

Whoopsie, I forgot the preconceived notions! But in this case it was only "apparently a comedy of some sort."

Michael5000 said...

Rex: It was indeed a fundamentally silly movie -- although I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. And yet, my whole argument about plot giveaways or whatever is pretty defensible: if I'm supposed to be engrossed in the comic adventures of three men looking for their lost pal, it is distracting and annoying to have been tipped off as to where that pal is forty-five minutes ago.

But then, "How will it end?" was a question much on my mind, if only because it is such a natural companion question to "When will it end, already?"

(Interestingly, in the oral arguments, I find myself defending this movie against a few people who think I was entirely too light on it. "At least they TRIED to do something interesting with genre and structure," I say, making myself popular with no one.)

Kritkrat said...

I think you have established that we have 100% different taste in movies... and perhaps flags.

Michael5000 said...

Kadonk: Chacun à son goût! The important thing is, we're thinking critically about the literature of our times. And perhaps flags.

Chuckdaddy said...

I agree with you 100 percent. I too really thought I might like this movie, both for your reason of interest in the unique format and in thinking the Zach guy can be pretty fucking hilarious. But it just didn't do it for me. Zach's character was too much (although I did appreciate the scenes of him wearing the baby), the hijinks lame, and the plot felt plodding. The whole day after schtick gave, to me, a feeling of past tense, like we were hearing about the funny stuff instead of being there for it. Anyway, I seem to have written a ridiculous amount on this subject, but I'm with you on this.