Judd who?: The randy dudecom returns in “The Hangover”

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

“The Hangover” is a rarity these days, as out of place in Hollywood as William H. Macy in “Wild Hogs”: a rude, crude and unapologetically lewd man-boy comedy. Remember those? The movies where guys got drunk on Budweiser, staged wrestling matches in pools of KY, did every dumb and random thing that popped into their sex-focused brains? Since that Judd Apatow character came along, dudecoms have been in short supply.

Not anymore. In fact, “The Hangover” feels a little like a big fat “suck it” to Apatow and his minions. Gone is the talk of feelings, the heart-to-hearts, the squishy male bonding. In its place, director Todd Phillips (hint: he made “Old School”) throws, well, everything else imaginable, from a tiger to a stolen police cruiser to a squirrelly Asian gangster who delights in “you’re so fat” jokes – all framed in a flashback narrative. It’s a trippy approach that manages to be as consistently funny as it is reliably surprising. And where’s the action? Vegas, baby, always Vegas.

And since “The Hangover” is a Vegas movie, it must begin with a bang: Tightly-wound Stu (Ed Helms), rakish Phil (Bradley Cooper) and bearded weirdo Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in their trashed hotel room still drunk with no memory of the bachelor party they threw for groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha). Doug’s nowhere to be found, but that’s not the only problem. There’s a stolen cop car, a very pissed-off tiger, a man-purse overflowing with $80,000 in poker chips, a pragmatic stripper (Heather Graham) looking for Mr. Right. Oh, and a chicken.

Time to zip up about how these pieces fit together; the whole point of “The Hangover” is the gradual reconstruction of the gang’s epic bachelor party. The flashback framing gives Phillips the chance to monkey with time and structure, but “Hangover” is no “Memento”; it’s hardly that cerebral. What it is is a cheerfully crass whodunit-of-sorts that gives the actors plenty of room to get their joke on. Admittedly, some do it better than others. Bartha’s missing for 90 minutes, so he means little; he’s just the catalyst. He’s too vanilla, anyway. (He’s been unimpressive since his turn as a mentally-challenged hostage in “Gigli.”) Cooper, with his creepily blue eyes and (what I swear to be) an I’m-hiding-heads-in-my-freezer grin, pulls the charming jerk card. That works here. Helms works his barely-contained Andy Bernard rage to great comic effect at every turn. He’s Happy Gilmore with the volume on 4, or a kinder, gentler Phil Weston. Pay attention to his “riddle me that” speech; Helms makes it one of the movie’s funniest moments.

But the rest of those moments belong to Galifianakis. His awkward, socially-stunted performance has so many critics wetting themselves you might be tempted to think it can’t be that good. It is. Alan’s a socially-frustrated goob who always says the wrong thing, who aims for wit but lands on stupidity. Galifianakis lets that awkwardness flower, blurting out things like “I wish I could breast-feed” or calling Roofies “rapies.”  Don’t look away; this is how great comedy careers are born.

And how great franchises are born. Can’t wait for “The Hangover 2: Trippin’ Balls and Nailing Chicks.”

Grade: B

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2 Responses

  1. […] “The Hangover” Ed Helms can't figure out what came first — the chicken or the hangover — in "The […]

  2. […] not about to argue that “Stu’s Song,” hilariously performed by Ed Helms in “The Hangover,” is overflowing with the emotional depth of, say, ”The Weary Kind” or has the […]

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