Once it was John Landis and Animal House and Bob Clark and his Porky's films. Now, when one thinks low brow frat boy humor, one’s mind tends to drift toward the films of Todd Phillips. Most likely the name will not ring a bell - his name is not big enough to create buzz from the multi-plex masses, nor indie enough to incite idol worship from the cinephiliac crowd - but his films (site specifically, Road Trip and Old School) are among the so-called elite of the genre.
Yet, with the exception of a few (a very few) laughs interspersed within the toilet nyucks of Old School, Phillips is not exactly known for his classic comedic skills. He is known for a low brow technique of fart, feces and penis jokes, and being that guy who let man-child Will Ferrell run around completely stark-raving naked throughout his most well known film.
His films, which also include the Starsky & Hutch retread and the somewhat underappreciated School for Scoundrels, have always seemed chock full of cheaply set-up, crass, bottom feeder humor not fit for anyone who has progressed beyond the age of thirteen – unless they are very drunk or very stoned. In Phillips’ defense though, these are probably the two most popular manners of watching his work, so I suppose in a way this approach works for him. It has never worked for me though.
With all this in mind, I was pleasantly, and thoroughly surprised as I sat there in the dark watching his latest foray into the arena of the overgrown man-child, The Hangover. The film, set during the day after a night of bachelor party debauchery in Las Vegas, is smartly written and well acted and is directed with an almost slick winking of the camera-eye at the cinematic legacy that is Sin City. In a nutshell, Todd Phillips has finally done good.
The (appropriately titled) Hangover stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis as three friends who wake up in a beyond trashed Vegas hotel room with a live tiger, a missing groom and no recollection whatsoever of what happened the night before that put them in such a state. Once they brush themselves off, put on their pants, lock the tiger in the bathroom and pick-up their stolen police car from the valet, the adventure to regain their memories and rescue their missing friend begins in earnest.
As the movie progresses and our heroes (of sorts) become more and more entrenched in the ramifications of last night, the scenarios get curiouser and curiouser, and the laughs get hairier and hairier. Eventually there are arrests and kidnappings and ransom demands and surprise marriages and Mike Tyson and a pretty well played Rain Man meets 21 skit – and of course the obligatory naked man leaping out of the trunk and kicking everyone’s asses. Each new trouble becoming even worse than the one before and in turn funnier than the one before.
It is within this structure that The Hangover becomes something more than mere dirty humor. It is within these confines that The Hangover becomes more of something on par with Arthur Hiller's The Out of Towners. Just like poor schmuck Jack Lemmon and his put upon wife Sandy Dennis in that 1970 comedy, Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis drown deeper and deeper and even deeper into a domino effect of unfortunate hilarity. As I said above, each new misstep becomes even more unbelievable than the last and in turn funnier than the one before.
The ending may get a bit sickly sweet at times - schmaltz doesn't really go well with what else Phillips and his Vegas boys have going here - and could have probably been left undone. Perhaps, as the slogan alludes to, Phillips should have kept what happened in Vegas, in Vegas. The schmaltzy finale aside though, in a nutshell, the film done good. [06/09/09]