Monday, June 15, 2009

Very Badly Hungover Stag Things

I always warn people when they ask for movie advice: "Keep in mind, I loved the movie Very Bad Things." The fact that I love that movie, a dark comedy written and directed by actor Peter Berg as his debut feature, symbolizes all that is wrong with my sense of humor.

You should keep this in mind as we review another movie in the "Bachelor Party" genre. And, yeah, that hoary Tom Hanks flick is probably the progenitor of the modern form (there seems little connection with Paddy Chayefsky's '57 movie). Except that, in the '90s, the form went rogue and started involving dead strippers.

This brings us to The Hangover which, depending on whom you ask, is either the funniest movie ever or the most offensive movie ever. Truthfully, it's neither. Not even close. But it is funny.

And, no, there isn't a dead stripper in it. Or, at least I don't think there is. The twist in this stag film is that the main characters have no idea what happened the night before. (Attentive film students may remember this same device used relatively recently in Dude, Where's My Car?)

Is it offensive? You know, life on this planet has basically broken the needle off my offensensitvity gauge. I didn't regard is as such, particularly, except for a photo shown at the end of the film of one of the characters receiving fellatio from a transvestite. And this, primarily, because they needlessly used a prosthetic to make it look real.

There's a masturbation joke involving a baby that apparently offended some people. I can only assume they don't have, have never been around, and don't remember being young children, since the discovery of the genitals well proceeds any kind of respect for social standards about not playing with them all the time. Actually, I appreciated that there weren't a lot of fart/vomit/urine/feces/sodomy jokes. (I guess I'm more offended by banal repetition than actual content.)

This is really a silly movie, with the characters doing--and having done things while completely out of their gourds--that strain credulity. It never goes into fantasy (like Dude, Where's My Car?), never gets heavy (like Stag), avoids any sort of social commentary (like Very Bad Things), and veers away from the heavily slapstick. It really is more like Bachelor Party: Sort of sweet and good-natured, with a lot of jokes and amusing scene set-ups that are coarser without being mean, and which give the film a kind of shallow feel--sort of like someone exaggerating their "true life" Vegas story.

I was at a low chuckle throughout most, with a few LOL moments. I never fully engaged with the hilarity somehow. It felt like the story was actually written backwards, with writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) starting with a zany set of circumstances ("a tiger...a friend missing...") and trying to make sense out of how it all happened.

And perhaps it's just me, but this didn't have the ensemble chemistry of a really great comedy. I can't say I didn't like any individual actor--in fact I did like them all--but I'm being a crusty old dude by saying I felt like the timing and chemistry of Bill Murray's old comedies (with John Candy, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, et al) was a lot better.

That said, I give the movie props for avoiding the most clich├ęd outcomes. Much like Wedding Crashers (apparently script-doctored by Lucas and Moore), this movie ends up being relatively optimistic about marriage, about what makes a good relationship and a bad one, and relatively sweet about friendship--and in the long run, very positive about human nature.

In that sense, the reverse of both Stag and Very Bad Things.

Heather Graham--once white-hot, remember?--plays the escort with the heart of gold, to Ed Helms whipped dentist, Bradley Cooper is the glib high school English teacher, and Zach Galliafianikis is the weird brother-in-law, cause of and solution to most of the plot's problems. Justin Bartha, the groom, ends up being the missing one, and it was great to see Jeffrey Tambor as the future, overly-understanding-about-Vegas father-in-law.

Mike Tyson's in the movie. I thought the whole sequence with him was rather weak. It felt more like "Bwhahahahaha! We got Mike Tyson in our movie!" than actual cleverness.

I probably got the biggest kick out of Ken Jeong, who was also very funny in the previews of an upcoming movie called The Goods. He played the world's second worst obstetrician in Knocked Up and an ubergeek in Role Models. He's perfect here because you never know what he is. He seems both menacing and goofy.

And hey, he gives the movie it's full-frontal male nudity. (Something the 'strom predicted would be a trend back with Forgetting Sarah Marshall.)

Go in with your offense meters off and not too high expectations and you can have a fun time.


  1. Is Ken Jeong the voice of the Vietnamese neighbor in 'King of the Hill'? The one thing they never resolved [or, if they did, I missed it] was what's the deal with the chicken?

    I liked this movie perhaps a little more than you did. I had the same feeling after '6th Sense' of I need to see that again so I can see all the hints.

    I loved Ed Helm. I think he made the movie and was geeky-tho-different than his familiar "The Office" role.

    What I enjoy on the screen and what I enjoy in my real life are different, but I had fun with this film.

    Thanks for your excellent review intertwining themes from several movies I have not seen. [Dude, Wedding Crashers, Very Bad Things, and Bachelor Party...nope, not a one.]

  2. No, Khan Sr. is a white guy.

    There were a number of things they didn't really explain. Yeah, nothing about the chicken, and there wasn't really an explanation as to how the room got trashed. When you think about it, they spent the bulk of the evening out of the room--how'd it get so messy?

  3. And, wow, you've really, uh, missed out, not having seen all those, uh--

    --Nah, can't do it.

  4. Dr. Ken Jeong is a medical doctor, so he has that going for him if this comedy thing doesn't pan out. And you'll appreciate this Ruth Anne, he got his medical degree from North Carolina (after undergrad at Duke, which seems like an odd pair of schools, but then I've known folks who attended both USC and UCLA, so anything is possible).

    On Kimmel, he mentioned that after this film Jeong's wife (also a medical doctor) felt Ken's performance would make all the men feel great about themselves in comparison when they scope Ken's relative lack of, ummm, assets.

    (when I first saw him pop out of the trunk, I figured he was doing a reverse Wahlberg from Boogie Nights prosthetic device thing, but nope, he confirmed, all that you saw was all him, unlike Marky Mark, who confirmed that all you saw in Boogie Nights was most definitely not all him, and this rounds out the Heather Graham portion of my comment as well, or I could tell the anecdote of how she almost shot a short in my living room...)


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