Three men and a chicken

Now this is what I’m talkin’ about. The Hangover is a funny movie, flat out, all the way through. Its setup is funny. Every situation is funny. Most of the dialogue is funny almost line-by-line.

Zach Galifianakis

The Hangover

Three and a half stars

Rated: R (for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material)

Now this is what I’m talkin’ about. The Hangover is a funny movie, flat out, all the way through. Its setup is funny. Every situation is funny. Most of the dialogue is funny almost line-by-line.

At some point we actually find ourselves caring a little about what happened to the missing bridegroom.

The movie opens with bad news for a bride on her wedding day. Her fiance’s best buddy is standing in the Mohave Desert with a bloody lip and three other guys, none of whom is her fiance. They’ve lost him. He advises her there’s no way the wedding is taking place.

We flash back two days to their road trip to Vegas for a bachelor party. Her future husband, Doug (Justin Bartha), will be joined by his two friends, the schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) and the dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Joining them will be her brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), an overweight slob with a Haystacks Calhoun beard and an injunction against coming within 200 feet of a school building.

The next morning, Doug will be missing. None of them can remember a thing since they were on the roof of Caesars Palace, drinking shots of Jagermeister.

They would desperately like to know: How in the hell do you wake up in a $4,200-a-night suite with a tiger, a chicken, a crying baby, a missing tooth and a belly button pierced for a diamond dangle? And when you give your parking check to the doorman, why does he bring around a police car?

And where is Doug?

Their search provides a structure for the rest of the movie, during a very long day that includes a visit to a wedding chapel, a violent encounter with a small but very mean Chinese mobster, a sweet hooker, an interview with an emergency room doctor, and an encounter with Mike Tyson, whose tiger they appear to have stolen.

There is never an explanation for the chicken.

I won’t go so far as to describe this movie as a character study, but all three men have profound personality problems, and the Vegas trip works on them like applied emergency therapy.

The dentist is rigidly ruled by his bitchy girlfriend. The schoolteacher thinks nothing of stealing the money for a class trip. And Alan …

Well, Zach Galifianakis’ performance is the kind of breakout performance that made John Belushi a star after Animal House. He is short, stocky, wants to be liked, has a yearning energy, was born clueless. It is a tribute to Galifianakis’ acting that we actually believe he is sincere when he asks the clerk at the check-in counter: “Is this the real Caesar’s palace? Does Caesar live here?”

The film is directed by Todd Phillips, whose Old School and Road Trip had their moments but didn’t prepare me for this. The screenplay is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, whose Ghosts of Girlfriends Past certainly didn’t.

This movie is written, not assembled out of off-the-shelf parts from the Apatow Surplus Store. There is a level of detail and observation in the dialogue that’s sort of remarkable: These characters aren’t generically funny, but specifically funny. The actors make them halfway convincing.

Phillips has them encountering a mixed bag of weird characters, which is standard, but the characters aren’t. Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the vertically challenged naked man they find locked in the trunk of the police car, is strong, skilled in martial arts, and really mean about Alan being fat. He finds almost anything a fat man does to be hilarious. When he finds his clothes and his henchmen, he is not to be trifled with.

Jade (Heather Graham), a stripper, is forthright: “Well, actually I’m an escort, but stripping is a good way to meet clients.” She isn’t the good-hearted cliche, but more of a sincere young woman who would like to meet the right guy.

The search for Doug has them piecing together clues from the E.R. doctor, Mike Tyson’s security tapes, and a mattress which is impaled on the uplifted arm of one of the Caesars Palace statues. The plot hurtles through them.

If the movie ends somewhat conventionally, well, it almost has to: Narrative housecleaning requires it.

It began conventionally, too, with uplifting music and a typeface for the titles that may remind you of My Best Friend’s Wedding. But it is not to be. Here is a movie that deserves every letter of its R rating. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, especially after you throw up.

Roger Ebert is a syndicated movie columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Scheer appears to backtrack on commitment to not allow debate on abortion

OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay once called social-conservative causes a… Continue reading

Coronavirus fear touches off a global run on face masks

Fear of the spreading coronavirus has led to a global run on… Continue reading

Statistics Canada says economic growth slowed to 0.3% annual pace in Q4

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter… Continue reading

Tories call on government to compensate dairy farmers ‘left behind’ in new NAFTA

OTTAWA — The Conservative opposition says the government must compensate dairy farmers… Continue reading

Red Deer gets $7M from province for an emergency 24/7 homeless shelter

Councillor says the location will be decided through community consultations

Fashion Fridays: Tammy’s big makeover

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Canadian Jonathan David scores again as Gent ties Roma in Europa League play

GHENT, Belgium — Canadian Jonathan David, who had a hat trick in… Continue reading

Coronavirus scuttles pre-Olympic camp for Canada’s women’s water polo team

TORONTO — Canada’s women’s water polo team was scheduled to be on… Continue reading

Virus fears lead K-pop superstars BTS to cancel Seoul shows

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — K-pop superstars BTS cancelled an upcoming concert… Continue reading

The prince and the pop star work on charity single in London

LONDON — Prince Harry joined Jon Bon Jovi at Abbey Road Studios… Continue reading

Granlund beats buzzer, scores in OT as Preds beat Flames 4-3

Predators 4 Flames 3 (OT) NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators gambled that… Continue reading

Ministers wrap pipeline talks with hereditary chiefs for the day in B.C.

SMITHERS, B.C. — The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en sat down Thursday… Continue reading

Gardening: Taking a break from the winter

Looking for a break from winter and dream of summer without leaving… Continue reading

Most Read