When Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up from their wild bachelor party in Vegas for the soon to be wed Doug (Justin Bartha), the three gents can't remember a thing about the night before.
Oh, and Doug just happens to be missing.
Then, there's that matter of the baby in the closet and, lest I forget, that silly issue of the tiger in the bathroom.
Yes, a tiger.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, the three seemingly mismatched buddies will feverishly try to retrace a night they don't remember in hopes of finding their lost buddy so they can get to the wedding on time.
It's also very, very funny from beginning to end.
Director Todd Phillips has already proven before, with "Old School" and "Road Trip," that he knows what goes on between men when men are left to be, well men. In "The Hangover," Phillips and his cast transcend the seemingly predictable subject matter thanks largely to Phillips' unwillingness to force a maudlin final act and the delightfully perverse and subversive chemistry between the three leading actors.
The hands down winning character here is Alan, played with a sort of understated glee by stand-up comic Zach Galifianakis that vacillates between perversity and sweetness with such ease that you can't help but fall completely in love with this socially awkward oaf of a man-child. Galifianakis manages to turn Alan into the most emotionally complex of the guys, while also giving "The Hangover" a good portion of its laugh-out loud moments.
Not too far behind Galifianakis, Ed Helms ("The Office") is a revelation as Stu, a nerdishly repressed dentist with an abusive girlfriend (Rachael Harris). While Helms' comic skills have long been recognized, "The Hangover" allows him to show some dramatic chops and even a bit of singing.
While Bradley Cooper plays essentially the same character he did in "He's Just Not That Into You," he's allowed to cut a bit more loose here as a cynical and jaded married schoolteacher who steals from his students for the Vegas trip.
The chemistry between these three is somewhat reminiscent of the hilariously awkward chemistry between Rob Schneider, David Spade and Jon Heder in "The Benchwarmers."
Anyone who has ever been witness to this type of film knows that over the course of the film, chaos and mayhem will take place, friendships will form, the unexpected will occur and, yet, somehow it will all work out in the end.
While "The Hangover" largely sticks to this tried and true formula, it does so in hilarious fashion with such twisted scenarios as Stu's drunken marriage to a Vegas stripper (a woefully under-utilized Heather Graham), a tiger stolen from the home of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson (making an unforgettable cameo here), a vengeful Chinese mobster (gifted character actor Ken Jeong) and the practically obligatory scenes in a Vegas wedding chapel and, of course, a police station.
Accompanied by a knockout soundtrack that ranges from Kanye West to Phil Collins to Mike Tyson, "The Hangover" practically screams out unconventionally absurdity from beginning to hilarious end.
While Jeong and Tyson do a nice job in brief supporting roles, the rest of the supporting cast is largely a waste including Heather Graham's surprisingly sweet stripper, Mike Epps as the "wrong Doug" and the barely noticed Justin Bartha as the groom to be, who basically bookends the film.
While "The Hangover" never quite reaches the heights of say a "40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" or even "Old School," it's a consistently funny, absurd and perverse comedy.
What happens in Vegas is very funny, indeed.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic