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The Hangover

(2009) ** 1/2 R
99 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Todd Phillips. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha.

/content/films/3527/1.jpgProminent film critic Pauline Kael infamously insisted that one need never watch a film more than once. When watching The Hangover for a second time, I confirmed what I suspected while watching it the first time: it's a movie with limited replay value. One of the movie's primary selling points is its mystery component, the perpetual element of surprise that comes from the leading characters' post-blackout amnesia, spawned by a poisonous cocktail of drugs and alcohol. Without the engagement of this surprise, the movie's weaknesses stand out more easily. Still, the stupid fun of The Hangover is worth experiencing at least once.

In a successful effort to repeat the success of Old School, director Todd Phillips rounded up a comically capable leading man (out: Luke Wilson, in: Bradley Cooper) and two clowns (Ed Helms and Zach Galiafanakis for Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell) to go on a juvenile adventure. Screenwriters Jon Lucas & Scott Moore dreamed up a bachelor-party excursion to Vegas, for groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha of National Treasure) and three stooges: amoral teacher Phil (Cooper of He's Just Not That Into You), Doug's seriously off-kilter brother-in-law Alan (stand-up comic Zach Galiafanakis), and wimpy dentist Stu (Ed Helms of The Office). Doug's father-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor) lends the foursome his prized 1969 Mercedes-Benz Cabriolet, and away they go on a disasterous trip that winds up posing the question "Dude, where's the groom?" The substance of the story is taken up with the heroes piecing together the events of their lost night on the town as they search far and wide for their missing friend.

What makes The Hangover work is neither the story, despite the mystery angle, nor the particular wacky incidents along the way. The "outrageous" situations tend to be either transparently random chaos for the sake of silly shocks (like the animals showing up in the heroes' swanky hotel suite and car trunk) or, even more lazily, Vegas clichés: could anyone fail to predict that one of the characters would wake up married, having done the deed at a chintzy quickie chapel? The bride in question is the ever perky Heather Graham, playing an escort named Jade; she's one of an amusing supporting cast filled out by Matt Walsh, Mike Epps, Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle and Mike Tyson, playing himself. What makes The Hangover work, above all else, is its ruthless disinterest in making the "heroes" likeable, and the comic efficiency of the actors who play them.

Phil steals cash from his students, Alan is a registered sex offender (his particular crime left to the imagination, but it involves the underage), and Stu's overly practiced but thin veneer of civility cracks early and often, the result of pent-up aggression caused by the henpecking of his girlfriend (Rachael Harris). We shouldn't like these jerks—they deserve their punishment much more than they deserve their well-made ending—but the boy-man qualities of Cooper, Galiafanakis and Helms bring us to pity them if not (heaven forfend) empathize. Galiafanakis is a particular revelation; though he has been a standout stand-up for years, he enjoys a breakout role here, making Alan a unique and bizarrely credible comic creation. Helms, too, shows his comedy chops, particularly when he sits at a piano and croons an in-the-moment musical improv of Stu's. Despite the inconvenient appearance of a jungle cat, The Hangover is no Bringing Up Baby (the women are too dreadful or dumb, for starters). Still, it's an enjoyable screwball comedy coming at the end of a largely barren decade for screen laughs.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby True HD 5.1

Street date: 12/15/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Only the greatest of videohounds will be able to fault The Hangover on hi-def Blu-ray. Any minor issues in the video transfer are easily forgotten given the generally sharp and colorful impression made by the film, accurately rendered on disc. Black level, flesh tones and contrast are very nice, with generous detail and texture contributing to the film's mostly natural appearance. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is adequate if not terribly exciting; given the film's action elements and Vegas settings, one expects more oomph and immersive surround effects. Warner presents the film in its Theatrical Version (100m) and a new Unrated Version (108m).

The Blu-ray exclusive Picture-in-Picture Commentary featuring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Todd Phillips is a certified hoot, with lots of reminiscences about the cast and production along with the occasional surgical wisecrack.

An interactive Map of Destruction (HD) branches out to ten brief featurettes with production designer Bill Brzeski, Helms, Galifianakis, Cooper, Phillips, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, casino dealer Keith Lyle, propert master Russell Bobbitt, and producer Dan Goldberg.

"The Madness of Ken Jeong" (7:56, HD) is a reel of Jeong's outtakes.

"Action Mash-Up" (:35, HD) is a pointless montage of action clips from the film.

The extended "Three Best Friends Song" (1:23, HD) is an alternate cut of a scene from the film.

"The Dan Band!" (1:08, HD) provides the complete performances from the film's final scene.

Also on hand: an amusing "Gag Reel" (8:16, HD) and More Pictures from the Missing Camera (HD), a big selling point for fans of the film.

BD-Live offers two more clips—"Cursing Mash-Up" and "Iron Mike Online Teaser," and a second disc houses a Digital Copy.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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