The Hangover – a profoundly pathetic spectacle
Cinemas everywhere from 12th June
Here’s a film that couldn’t have found a better week to stumble its boozy way into Cambridge cinemas (in theory anyway). Prising open their aching eyes to a wrecked hotel room, a number of suspicious stains on their clothes and a tiger wandering around the bathroom, the gloriously hungover protagonists of the film’s title may well expect some sympathy from revellers this May Week (perhaps substituting ‘tiger’ for ‘Homertonian’).
But really, my sympathy doesn’t extend much further than that. The Hangover collapses into a stinking heap of its own unfunnyness. This is less because the crudeness of its visual humour (saggy bottoms and playful punch-ups abound) and its bawdy hijinks are that offensive and more that such gags are so bloody obvious. Even the basic premise of a quest to piece together the events of a stag night in Las Vegas that results in the disappearance of the groom plays like a lame reworking of Dude, Where’s my Car? (this time it’s dude, where’s my dude?).
So, racing against the clock to find the missing friend in time for his wedding the next day, our hapless heroes have all the wacky japes and scrapes in the ‘blatant-rip-off-of-a-Coen-Brothers-movie’ book. There’s a camp Yakuza boss called Lesley Chow looking for his man-bag full of casino winnings, a mumbling cameo from Mike Tyson, some taser gun happy cops and (who’d-a-thunk-it?) the discovery that one of the members of the party tied the knot with the stripper called Jade at the Little Chapel of Vegas.
So, it needn’t be said that I won’t be joining the chorus of ecstatic knee-slapping that has already greeted The Hangover. Whilst there are moments of inspired absurdity, such as a naked Yakuza boss emerging from a car boot and manically pummelling our baffled hangoverees with a crowbar, they are ultimately left adrift amidst an absence of witty dialogue and the predictable contrivances of the plot.
Neither is ‘The Hangover’ “this year’s The Big Lebowski”, as a poster on the side of phone box enthusiastically informed me the other day (note: be wary of anything advertised on the side of phone boxes). Granted, both films revel in the antics of lovable bozos getting hurt in a number of ways that don’t bear repeating; but where Lebowski manages to charm its way into ours hearts with its ironic insight, The Hangover is contented with making us cringe and grin is equal measures.
More to the point, where in Lebowski we have the bravura girth of John Goodman and the effortless brilliance of Jeff Bridges’ Dude, The Hangover is a vehicle for three newcomers to Hollywood, recruited from the TV circuit.
Without wishing to wax lyrical and turn this review into an ode to the Dude, I think you can see everything that Hangover isn’t by looking to Lebowski. Take for instance an early scene in the latter where the Dude’s shabby apartment is ransacked and rug urinated upon by neo-Nazi thugs looking for another Lebowski. The Dude proceeds to lament the tarnishing of the rug, an item that “really brought the apartment together”. It’s a terrific line not because it’s random or beside the point but because we know exactly where he’s at and what he’s on about.
The Hangover aims for a close-to-bone style of comedy that more often hits an artery and is genuinely uncomfortable. Alan, the soon-to-be brother-in-law of Doug, the missing groom, is the creepiest character I’ve seen in a comedy for a while. He functions as the fat and dim stooge of the group. But his multiple allusions to paedophilic desires and his association of 9/11 with an unfortunate clamp down on in-flight wanking really miss the mark.
Watching Lebowski involves sharing in the intoxicating, mindcrunching world of the Coens and talking about it in the cold sobriety of print really isn’t the way to do Lebowski justice. Conversely, watching The Hangover is kind of like walking back late through Jesus Green and seeing someone pissed off their head and waging war on aggressive moths with their can of Newcastle Brown…i.e. funny for a few idle seconds before becoming a profoundly pathetic spectacle.