WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Three groomsmen take their friend on a bachelor party to Las Vegas only to wake up in a post-drunken stupor the next morning with no memory of what occurred the night before. With an abandoned baby crying in their hotel suite’s closet a roaming tiger in their bathroom and a completely AWOL groom their lives suddenly become very complicated as they try to put the pieces of their “Boys Gone Wild” night together and find their friend before the wedding bells start to ring.
WHO’S IN IT?
The Hangover features a smart cast of deft comic actors who try to make the most of a terrific premise with mixed results. Bradley Cooper is winning as Phil a smartass high school teacher out for a good time with his buds. Ed Helms (The Office) is also quite funny as Stu a pussy-whipped dentist who doesn’t normally stray far from his own overbearing girlfriend (Rachael Harris). The hip alternative comedian Zach Galifianakis comes off Jack Black-like and seems confused on just how far over-the-top to take Alan a rather gross unkempt brother-in-law to be for the groom. As the missing husband-to-be Doug Justin Bartha doesn’t have a whole lot to do because for most of the running time he’s uh missing. Heather Graham brings a sweet relaxed quality as a stripper who hooks up with Stu but Ken Jeong overplays it as a fast-talking foul-mouthed low-life criminal who claims the gang owes him $80 000. In a clever bit of casting former boxer Mike Tyson also turns up for some action but proves that as an actor he’s not a heavyweight.
The pitch for The Hangover from screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Four Christmases) must have gone over like gangbusters. It’s a hilarious premise and the early scenes setting it all up are priceless. The hard R-rated tone of the crude dialogue will certainly satisfy the young beer-swigging male demographic the film aims to please.
Bottom line is that as good as the idea is it’s played out as sort of a one-joke premise over the course of 99 minutes without ever seeming truly inspired. Guys get wasted and try to find out why. That’s about it. Plus the screenwriters and director Todd Phillips (Old School) throw their credibility card out the window in ridiculous scenes with taser-crazy cops hyped-up Asian mobsters and stereotypes run amok. It’s funny to a point but it could have been classic.
Seeing the three guys waking up to find the tiger and the baby can’t be beat but most of this funny stuff is in the Hangover trailer that’s been running for weeks.
BEST REASON TO STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS?
A still montage that finally pays off the whole movie and shows what each of the guys did on the fateful night is a riot. The final image involving Galifianakis and a certain unidentified woman on her knees makes you wonder how they got it past the ratings board without being slapped with an NC-17.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Either way. This is the ideal six-pack frat-boy movie that MUST be seen with a large group of slobs.
Tragedy strikes the Marshall University community when a plane crash claims the lives of most of the football team coaches and some fans. With the whole town traumatized university president Donald Dedmond (David Strathairn) thinks it's best to cancel the football program but remaining players led by Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) rally the school to support continuing the team's honor. Of course nobody wants to coach in these circumstances--that is until rogue bad boy Jake Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) asks for the job. Along with surviving assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) they build the team back up. Just putting the team back together raises the town's spirits but getting back the winning record is another story. This could have easily been a sappy tearjerker but it sticks to the high road for the most part. There are some sad scenes (i.e. the cheerleader [Kate Mara] returning the engagement ring her dead boyfriend gave her to his mourning daddy) but otherwise the focus is on moving ahead. Just about every actor gets at least one big moment to cry. That's a given in a story of this nature and some of them are better than others. Mackie's stoic attempt to take punches in an injured shoulder is full of passion but Fox's random breakdown is well just like a flashback from Lost. He is better on the field showing us a side to his personality we haven’t seen yet. Strathairn seems the most sympathetic as the pained authority figure making tough decisions. Mara (Brokeback Mountain) looks so innocent you just want to hold her hand and stroke her hair every time she wells up. Aside from that there's also a lot of personality in the film. McConaughey leads the team with a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his lips but it never comes across as insensitive. He’s hip so of course he's the one who can lead them out of tragedy. And as an ensemble film the cast comes together as a community in which a single tragedy can affect them all and a single victory can give them hope. McG totally restrains his bombastic Charlie's Angels style of filmmaking for this character piece. Just about the only noticeably fancy shot is a dissolve from Mara looking up at the plane to her boyfriend staring out the airplane window. It's a moving moment because we know what is coming and it does not call too much attention to the filmmaking process. McG knows how to do some great montages too. Recruiting the new players running the drills--they're all full of visual moments set to a rocking soundtrack. Most importantly he handles the tragedy with class and doesn’t deliberately try to jerk tears. The plane crashes with only a single jump and a fade to black but the wreckage burns through our hearts. Instead McG shows there's a way to honor the dead to take back a community's pride and let life go on without disrespecting any of the departed. The football games in We Are Marshall are filmed with visceral impacts pretty much the way most sports movies are. There's no Friday Night Lights grit but that's fine. These games are about telling a story not exposing the seedy underbelly of the sport.
Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer) an insurance agent thinks it would be a great idea to take his estranged wife and three children to his family reunion in Missouri by car from California. Nate's motives are sincere enough: He is separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) who has custody of teenagers Nikki (Solange Knowles) DJ (Bow Wow) and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) and hopes the road trip will help them bond as a family and with any luck re-ignite that loving feeling with the mother of his children. But everything that can go wrong does even before the trip begins. Nate brings his SUV into the shop to have an 8-track tape player installed in order to listen to his old Motown classics but what he gets is something straight out of MTV's Pimp My Ride although not even West Coast Customs would do something this gaudy. Off they go in their Burberry-outfitted low-rider Lincoln Navigator complete with four TVs and 26-inch Spinners. Vehicle with up-to-the-minute gadgetry notwithstanding the Johnsons encounter every clichéd road trip disaster including running out of gas and needing a pay phone. It's hard to figure out what's more trite--the journey to Missouri or what happens when they actually get there.
Cedric the Entertainer's trademark observational comedy which made him stand out as a cast member of The Steve Harvey Show simply isn't enough to carry an entire film. Cedric is truly the only funny thing Johnson Family Vacation has going for it and he has a few gags that are simply hilarious including a scene in which he bans CDs from artists who have been shot like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. from being played in the car. Imagine his dismay when his wife points out that also includes Marvin Gaye "who was shot by his daddy--twice." But the comedian's arsenal of jokes--no matter how witty--do not a story make. Speaking of wasted talent the casting of stunning Williams as Nate's wife Dorothy is quite baffling. While Cedric the Entertainer could be married to someone this hot poor Nate probably couldn't. Nonetheless the quick-witted Williams holds her own next to one of the Original Kings of Comedy. Seventeen-year-old Bow Wow has worked hard to prove that he's not just a flash in the pan--and it's worked for the most part. He proved with Like Mike that he can act but the role of DJ here gets buried in this lousy film.
Christopher Erskin who makes his directorial debut here delivers a mess of a movie despite having squeezed out everything he could from his stars. Visually the sets resemble skits on a TV variety show rather than professional feature film sets the worst being the sequences where the family is in the SUV--almost half the entire film. To wit: you see them driving with the same scenery in the background--it's like in the The Flintstones when Fred would drive past the same palm tree next to the same rock house again and again. You can't help but picture the actors sitting in the Lincoln Navigator prop car in front of a large blue screen windows rolled down with a wind machine pointed at them. Matching the abysmal visuals are writers Todd R and Earl Richey Jones' ill-paced script. The film drags as the Johnson family encounters unoriginal setbacks and the end is not even a payoff; it's punishment. See the film doesn't end when family finally reaches Missouri: Moviegoers must the sit through the actual reunion and the Johnson family's Brady Bunch-style musical performance costumes and all. The only moment of brief relief is Steve Harvey's guest appearance as Nate's brother. But wait! It doesn't even end then--we have to follow the family back home to California.