Thursday, July 16, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hangover

2009 Comedy
STARRING Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha
WRITTEN BY Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
DIRECTED BY Todd Phillips
The Hangover doesn't really re-invent the wheel, but it spins it to tremendous effect. With no name star on the poster and a budget less than 1/4 the usual summer fare, it manages something few movies have yet this summer: be fun, fresh, surprising and very entertaining.
Setting out to Vegas for a bachelor party, 3 groomsmen wake up in a renovation-bound hotel suite with a tiger, a baby, no groom and no memory of what happened during their night on the town. The further they go in retracing their steps to locate the groom, the less it seems they'll ever be able to forget a night they just can't remember.
Right off the bat, from one of the film's first scenes, is a reference to a similar-themed dark comedy from the mid-90s, the very horrid and questionable Very Bad Things. And upon complete viewing, said reference feels like both a reassurance to the viewer and statement to writer/director Peter Berg: THIS is how you pull-off a Bachelor Party Gone Wrong movie. I can't say I'm a fan of Todd Phillips' previous films (Old School, Road Trip) but the grossness factor and irreverance of this one becomes inoffensive due to the setting and cast, and extracted more thana few laughs out of me.
The whole thing might've felt stale and forced if populated by better-known actors or a cast usual to this type of comedy. But the trio of unknown-yet-experienced leads attack the material with extreme confidence and a fresh dose of reserve that allows for the MAYBE improbable succession of events to sweep them along and make the film work. Even a risky Rain Man reference turns out a refreshing moment of pure gold. Lots have been said of blue-eyed hunk Bradley Cooper and outrageous funny-man Zach Galifianakis, it seems to me though that Ed Helms is actually the anchor who brings this unlikely ensemble together; his take on the straight man who's in way over his head brings nothing new, yet it feels unique and tons of fun.
Talk around the water cooler has Lindsay Lohan-Ronson refusing the part played in the film by the still uber-hot Heather Graham, feeling the script beneath her and bound for failure. The Hangover raked in 8 times its budget to become one of the year's top money makers. Lindsay's last film was so bad it went straight to video. In Hollywood, you fail upward and succeed downward, it seems...
8.5* out of 10


2009 Dark Comedy/Horror

STARRING Jason Mewes, Richard Fitzpatrick, Erica Cox.
WRITTEN BY Tim McGregor and Tyler Levine
DIRECTED BY Harvey Glazer
It's quite unfortunate that such an original deconstruction of the genre comes smack-dab in the middle of the Twilight/True Blood vampire renaissance - seems that every week a new vampire project is announced to cash in on the attention given to the afforementioned. Had the film been given stronger legs it would've walked tall besides those, but the circumstances simply highlight its flaws which makes the actual strenghts forgettable.
The set-up, reminiscent in tone and style to Scorcese's Bringing Out the Dead (though nowhere as powerful) sees generically-named "Jack" the paramedic overcome heartbreak and depression when finding a too-cute-to-be-real woman unconscious and gravely injured on his doorstep. The romantic fantasy of nursing the lovely Danika back to health soon becomes nightmare when it turns out her predicament was caused by a vampire's bite. Jack's feelings for his new love are stretched to no end when her hunger forces him towards the unthinkable.
Fortunately for the film, there's no like-diamonds-in-the-sun aspect to its bloodsucker (GOD I hate Twilight...), instead presenting a classic kind of vampire but as she deals with discovering for herself what she is. The soundtrack to back up the black humor of it all is of a quality too rarely seen in such films, and one I'll make a point to track down and buy.
UNfortunately, the brilliant pieces of dark comedy nontwithstanding, it just doesn't work. The smallish budget has nothing to do with it, on the contrary the simplicity of the setting and location is one of its strenghts. Nor does the dialogues, infused with an improvisational urban feel that makes the interactions feel much more realistic than most doomed-romance stories. And before naysayers jump the gun, it ain't Jason Mewes either; the dude shows he's come a long way since his days as an addict and walking Hollywood joke, and shows he can handle himself in front of a camera. But as sympathetic as Mewes is, he still needs a strong hand to guide him, and he quite visibly doesn't get it.
Director Harvey Glazer does show skill at making something disturbing look funny, but he also clearly seems much more interested in exteriorizing his romantic frustrations (Women always want more even if it kills you is the none-too-subtle main theme) and obligeing in blatant voyeurism towards the painfully gorgeous Erica Cox (who spends the entire film barely clothed, if at all) than firmly steering his boat through a delicate balance of chills and laughs. The actors are left to themselves in crucial moments when a much more experienced filmmaker would've made them dish out career-defining performances -the potential is that high with the given material. Only Canadian screen vet Richard Fitzpatrick, playing Jack's mentor and confidant, manages to look good by himself and bring an A-game to the table. But since the film rests on the shoulders of less experienced Cox and Mewes, the intensity gets completely lost, and the potentially powerful ending comes out as a wet firecracker.
The film's short running time (barely 80 minutes) and ability to not take itself too seriously allow a still enjoyable watch for what many will consider a complete stinker. It's far from Uwe-Boll crapness, but also unfortunately not close to what it could've been under the guise of a Brad Anderson or Shane Carruth.
6* out of 10