Boys will be boys, but send a posse of red-blooded males to Vegas and chances are good they'll morph into a herd of wild animals running amok. A few drinks, a lap dance or two, a bit of carousing, and some controlled substances will surely unleash the crazed adolescent beast lurking within all of us with a Y chromosome. If we're lucky, what happens in Vegas really will stay there, and few films depict the manic mayhem of a lost Sin City weekend better than 'The Hangover.' Todd Phillips' comedy doesn't always score a bull's-eye, but it's the next best thing to cruising The Strip – a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners romp that takes Vegas indulgence to the nth degree and beyond. For some, this bawdy farce will spark fond memories of past debaucheries, but for more reserved and conservative guys (like me), it allows them to connect with their inner wild child and experience vicarious thrills from the relative safety of their own living rooms.
'The Hangover' is best taken with a grain of salt – or better yet, some grain alcohol – as it tells the over-the-top tale of four buddies who escape to Vegas for a blowout bachelor party for the soon-to-be-married Doug (Justin Bartha). Other members of the rowdy quartet include Phil (Bradley Cooper), a jaded schoolteacher with a wife and young son; Stu (Ed Helms), the henpecked boyfriend of the shrewish Melissa (Rachael Harris); and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the chubby, eccentric brother of Doug's fiancée, Tracy (Sasha Barrese). After a rooftop toast, a vow of secrecy, and some heavy imbibing, the friends take to the streets, and when they wake up the next morning with splitting headaches, they can't remember anything they did the night before. Their Caesar's Palace villa has been irrevocably ransacked, there's a live tiger skulking around in their bathroom, they discover a lost baby in their closet, and Doug is nowhere to be found. With the clock ticking toward his impending nuptials, Phil, Stu, and Alan frantically try to reconstruct their wild evening and find their MIA friend, but they've got to go through a heart-of-gold hooker (Heather Graham), a bad-ass Asian mobster (Ken Jeong), and Iron Mike Tyson himself to get the necessary clues and survive the train wreck that's become their Vegas odyssey.
Like Vegas itself, 'The Hangover' requires a go-with-the-flow, take-it-to-the-limit attitude to fully enjoy the flick. There's enough weird and stupid stuff packed inside to fill several movies, but the personalities are so engaging and the action so outrageous, it's easy to hop aboard the train and handle whatever the film throws at us. Phillips' easygoing style suits the material to a T, and his laid-back direction makes the out-of-control antics easy to digest. Though I loved how Scorsese tackled a similar-themed story in 'After Hours,' the more mainstream approach here adds a bizarre hint of realism to the guys' misadventures.
Cooper, Helms, Bartha, and Galifianakis make a winning quartet – a motley group of friends to be sure, but that's what makes the scenario work. Each brings their own crazy quirks to the table, and as the junket progresses, a palpable sense of camaraderie grows. We may not be able to identify with any of them, but can appreciate how this experience tightens their bond, and by the end of the film, it's tough to resist the urge to grab a bunch of buddies and book a Vegas getaway – albeit a slightly more sedate one – posthaste.
Will 'The Hangover' appeal to everyone? Absolutely not. Its edgy brand of comedy will either captivate or alienate, depending on your point of view. Many will find it vulgar, crude, idiotic, a bit raunchy, and hopelessly juvenile. And so will those who like it. In this year's battle of comic buddy films, I still must give the nod to 'I Love You, Man,' which for me, scored higher on the laugh meter and possessed more depth and heart. But 'The Hangover' scores high, too. In short, it's a binge movie, something to dive into when you're craving excess, and easy to purge from your system when it's over.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This edition of 'The Hangover' includes both the original theatrical and unrated cuts of the film. The unrated version runs eight minutes longer than the original, but before anyone gets too excited, the extra footage doesn't include anything more explicit or controversial. Extended dialogue scenes are all you'll find, and while they're painless to watch, they add very little to the film.
Smooth and clean best describes 'The Hangover' transfer, which beautifully renders the glitz, glamour, grit, and grime of Las Vegas and the surrounding desert. The 1080p/VC-1 encode possesses a slick but not artificial look that serves this buddy comedy well, with just a hint of grain lending the image welcome texture. Excellent contrast adds a nice pop to both day and night scenes, fine details are easily discernible, and shadow delineation is quite good. Colors are rich and vibrant (Graham's red dress in the casino scene looks especially bold), but always appear realistic, and close-ups often can be quite striking, if a bit too close for comfort where Galifianakis is concerned. Fleshtones are spot-on and blacks are lush and inky.
Banding and digital noise are absent, and just a tiny bit of edge sharpening is noticeable now and then. Otherwise, the transfer's pristine look remains undisturbed. Though this effort from Warner isn't quite a knock-your-eyes-out dazzler, it's still a solid rendering that does this recent film proud.
I expected more, however, from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, which rarely complements the story's chaotic nature. A film like 'The Hangover' should have a kick-ass, rowdy, hyper-directional mix that hurls the viewer into the confusion and disorientation the characters feel, but the audio is surprisingly bland. Yes, it's clear and well modulated, with good dynamic range and crisp accents, but surround activity stays muted and even front channel stereo separation is sporadic. Bass frequencies are rather anemic, too, save for one memorable car collision. Well-prioritized dialogue ensures that every line is clear and easy to understand, and the music gets pumped up a notch to inject some necessary adrenaline into the proceedings, but for such a crazy film, the sound remains disappointingly mainstream.
A fair amount of supplements will please fans. There's nothing much of substance (what a surprise!), but some fun inanities provide some extra chuckles.
'The Hangover' may not be the funniest movie of the year, but it's a wild, testosterone-infused ride filled with outrageous situations, some funny shtick, and lots of male bonding. This Blu-ray isn't as bold as its subject matter, but it possesses good video, namby-pamby audio, and typically mindless supplements. Grab a few buddies, a few brews, and lose yourself in the chaos. Recommended.