On Tuesday, UCSB students got a chance to see an advance screening of Todd Phillips’ new movie, The Hangover at Isla Vista Theater. The director himself was there to introduce the film, and even answer some questions at the end. UCSB was his latest stop on a college tour to promote the movie and get reactions from students, which he explained to be his target audience.
The film is based primarily around three guys taking their friend to Vegas for a bachelor party, only to lose him with the rest of their memories by morning. What’s interesting about the plot is that unlike Phillips’ past movies (Old School, Road Trip) which cash in on scenes of partying to earn laughs and cool points, you never actually see what happened on that fateful night until a slide show of still photographs shows up during the closing credits. In a weird way, Hangover becomes a sort of detective story as Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) try to piece together clues to find Justin (Doug Billings) before his wedding. The film also features a setting seldom seen in movies – Las Vegas during daylight.
While Hangover is an undeniably funny movie – and got an overwhelmingly positive reaction from viewers at Isla Vista Theater – it falls short in the originality department. The characters seem strikingly similar to those in Old School. When Phil talks about marriage as a mistake and the death of fun, it feels like lines for Vince Vaughn that never made it to the screen, while Galifianakis provides the physical comedy gags in the absence of Will Ferrell. In fact, the entire plot is reminiscent of Dude Where’s My Car? to the point where this could really be its sequel, Dude Where’s My Friend?. Several of the film’s gags, such as Stu discovering he married a stripper named Jade (Heather Graham), have become cliches in Vegas movies.
Perhaps Phillips is aware of this. During the Q&A session after the movie, he explained how several of the shots are taken directly from classic Vegas movies. For example, he explained how a scene where the guys meet in the desert with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), a gangster whom they suspect has captured their buddy, is filmed identically to a scene in Casino. A keen eye can notice nods to other films, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Rain Man. He also said the theme of marriage anxiety is a favorite of his. “It’s a decision that most men go through as they reach their thirties. It’s an awkward time, and I think it really lends itself to comedy.”
Galifianakis as the bride-to-be’s socially inept and possible mentally handicapped brother stands out as the film’s funniest character. Phillips said that many of the best jokes, such as a gag about the Jonas Brothers, were totally improvised. At the end of the day, Hangover is a solid comedy that earned more than a fair share of heavy laughs. And with that, does it really need to be all that original? After all, it’s Vegas, baby!