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"Hangover" is blurry, thick and painful

June 10, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

It won't come as a surprise to anybody that "The Hangover" is missing a brain. It isn't trying to be a smart movie, it's just trying to get an audience to laugh at its dumb characters. Its goal is to end up as a DVD that you pop in on a rainy day.

There's nothing wrong with this approach, many of the best comedies are dumb-guy comedies. But there is a major problem with "The Hangover." It's missing a heart, too.

The characters in these movies need to get you to feel strongly about them. Usually this means being likeable, occasionally this means making you hate them so much that it's funny to see bad things happen to them. The characters in "The Hangover" have almost no personality. We're indifferent to their successes and misfortunes.

Phil (Bradley Cooper) is an easygoing party animal. Stu (Ed Helms) is a nerdy dentist with an annoying girlfriend. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is just plain weird. They join their friend Doug (Justin Bartha), whose sole character trait is that he's about to get married, for an awesome weekend bachelor party in Las Vegas. The four go up on the roof of their hotel for a toast, and then ... some time later, they wake up. They're badly hung over. Also, Doug is missing.

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The three remaining friends can't remember a thing about last night, but their room is littered with indications that they were irresponsible. Phil is wearing a medical bracelet. Stu is missing a tooth. Alan is missing his pants. There's a hungry tiger in the bathroom. Someone's baby is stuffed (safely) in a closet. Doug's mattress is impaled on a statue outside. Everybody just wants to get Doug and get out of town before the resort discovers how they trashed their room. But if they want to find him, they have to figure out exactly what they did last night and where they might have lost their friend.

They go on adventure that takes them from their hotel to a hospital to a police station to a wedding chapel to the desert to the casino floor. They deal with incompetent cops, kids with stun guns, strippers, Asian gangsters and Mike Tyson. All of these movies have an unlikely cameo by someone making fun of themselves. Apparently, in "The Hangover," it was Tyson's turn.

Dumb-guy movies are supposed to have more sympathetic characters. It might be fun to see Tommy Boy fall down, but you do want to see him get back up. Happy Gilmore may have some rough edges, but you still want to see him stick it to that jerk Shooter McGavin. Austin Powers gets humiliated, but he just has to make it to a showdown with Dr. Evil. There's a scene in "The Hangover" where it looks like the guys are going to be in jail for the whole weekend. I shrug and think, "That sounds fair."

The characters in "The Hangover" are unsympathetic for several reasons, but one of the biggest is that what they say isn't funny. We're supposed to be laughing at all the profanity they use, but it isn't creatively-used profanity. It's just profanity for profanity's sake, as if the writers think four-letter words are a good substitute for actual punchlines. The actors don't quite have the timing to be "good" at swearing, either.

"The Hangover" can boast a few funny bits. Helms sings a hilarious song about tigers, Galifianakis throws himself into some physical gags. But the characters are underdeveloped and the screenplay keeps expecting that straight-up profanity is funny. In the end, it might be worth an actual hangover to forget that you saw "The Hangover".

"The Hangover" is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity and some drug material. Its runtime is 100 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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