Blu-ray Review: The Hangover (2009)

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Read Our Interview with Ed Helms

Multiplying a traditional buddy comedy by two-- animals not included-- Old School director Todd Phillips introduces us to the fearless foursome of Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) who take their bachelor party celebration on the road.

Eschewing the paradigm of the Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church smash hit Sideways with Helms' Stu using their trip to the Wine Country as an excuse he delivers to his stereotypical “ball-busting” girlfriend, the men instead opt to “Viva Las Vegas.” This decision to "Viva" it up lasts less than twenty-four hours as a sentimental toast precedes a night on the town, wherein the four wake up the next day to experience not just the feeling evoked by the title of The Hangover but also “Amnesia Las Vegas.”

Realizing that the characters-- including the now missing-in-action Doug-- as well as the audience have literally no idea what happened the earlier evening, Todd Phillips' clever comedy that takes a full forty minutes to build up begins to throw clues at us faster than a Vegas dealer can fling the cards in a blackjack game.

Intriguingly, while the film that eventually garnered the Golden Globe as the Best Musical or Comedy Film of 2009 is amusing from the start, mostly due to the bizarre, seemingly improvised non sequiturs and alarming outbursts of Galifianakis' Alan, it's the rarest of comedies in that it not only grows far more hilarious as it continues, but also conquers the genre's tendency to go overboard into fake nostalgia or tonal shifts in the third act.

As San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick La Salle noted, it's best it you avoid the trailer if at all possible. Yet contrary to the standard Hollywood comedy fear that it's to prevent yourself from having all of the movie's jokes ruined, this time around you'll want to do so essentially because the film also works like a mystery.

Yet in Hangover terms, the mystery is one wherein the most thrilling surprise isn't in the final denouement but in the little reveals offered up along the way that continually lead our characters down the most unexpectedly hilarious and bizarre paths.

In fact, the more concrete the evidence and the more definitive the results of their inquiry surrounding what happened the previous night are, the less freewheeling, funny and creative the film is all-around. This I can attest to firsthand as I had the extra challenge of viewing the work for the first time on disc since I'd missed the press screening.

And although I was fortunate enough to have interviewed star Ed Helms in a round-table setting prior to its release, I knew just from our discussion that the movie depended on surprise, suspension of disbelief to such an extent that it would most likely necessitate a second screening, making me respect the film on another level completely.

While the wild comedy and terrific chemistry of the cast members riffing off one another is apparent from the first go-round, it was during the second spin that I was struck
by the novelty of mysterious set-up in the screenplay from Four Christmases scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

Giving off the enviable feeling that you're watching something completely spontaneous, much credit is also due to the guidance of Todd Phillips who proved in the past that he knows funny and by this point has mastered it to the degree that you buy right into the ridiculousness of a baby in a closet, a tiger in a bathroom and a patrol car at the valet because of the nonchalant approach.

When I interviewed Helms, there were already whispers that The Hangover would be followed up by at least one sequel, yet being that it was releasing right after Warner Brothers' tremendous push for the largely disappointing Terminator: Salvation, nobody was certain how a summer R-rated comedy would do in a month other than August.

Now known as the most successful comedy of all time, raking in Matrix numbers of those who've purchased it on DVD and Blu-ray, the question has definitely shifted to the number of sequels that will be made. Of course, any sequel discussion also comes with obvious concern in whether or not we can buy the “Amnesia Las Vegas” approach twice and in a location other than the city wherein what happens there “stays" there, and if it will feel just as spontaneous when we're watching Stu, Phil, Alan, and Doug again and again.

Still, until then, The Hangover, which should've dispensed with the final “lost camera” end credit sequence of snapshots illustrating what happened with a tone that feels like Entourage went to the Bada-Bing, makes a great analysis worthy contemporary comedy in an era when we just don't have that many truly funny films.

Gorgeous lensing transfers well on the WB Blu-ray format and while the music and ambient sound is terrific, duplicating realistic sound in a variety of speaker set-ups, once again, the spoken dialogue capture and playback on disc is far too low. A hurdle for WB releases, this makes for an uneven sound balance that would've no doubt diminished slightly from the experience had it not been for the antics onscreen and questioning if your own laughter is the thing throwing the sound off track.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.