By Craig DeBell
Zach Galifinakis. If you don’t know the name, you will. In Todd Phillips new movie The Hangover, the Hobbit-shaped comedian steals nearly every scene. And that’s saying a lot, because all three leads shine hard in this summer gem. There’s also Ed Helms, as the hen-pecked dentist Stu, and Bradley Cooper as burned out school teacher Phil. The trio’s chemistry electrifies – it’s bottled laugh-lightning – but Galifinakis, with his hilariously vulnerable turn as the naïve brother-in-law-to-be, will be the one bringing fans back for repeat viewings.
If you don’t know the setup for The Hangover, you must not watch The Office. But that’s okay. It’s about as simple as they come. Four guys drive to Vegas for a bachelor party. When they wake up the next morning, they’re short a groom and a tooth, but have gained a tiger and a real, live baby. To top it all off, none of them have any clue how it all happened.
Now, let’s be honest. It kind of sounds like a premise for one of those Axe body spray commercials. Or at least it sounds tailored to the kind of audience that actually wears Axe body spray and thinks their commercials are funny. But what’s most surprising and – darn it – endearing about The Hangover is that its much more than a gross out comedy – at it’s heart, it’s a crackling, full-on mystery story about three guys finding their groom and sniff sniff finding themselves.
Yes, the attempts to include “substance” are clunky and a bit forced, but they’re earnest and brief. As for the comedy? For the most part, it’s totally organic. There’s no snarky banter about pop-culture. There’s no back-and-forth about “the bro code” or any of the other crap we’ve gome to expect from frat boy comedy. The jokes grow out of the personalities of the characters and their natural reactions to each other and to the increasingly baffling circumstances in which they find themselves. Even Mike Tyson, who’s cameo is actually not just for the heck of it, grabs a handful of chuckles without mentioning Evander Holyfield or self-referencing his scandalous escapades. Here, he’s a legitimate straight man.
But you just can’t talk about this movie, no matter how well the mystery weaves, no matter how freely the jokes slay, without bringing up Galifinakis. He plays Alan, the groom’s brother-in-law to be. Alan’s invited along because, well, it’s just the polite thing to do. He doesn’t gel at all with his jaded and more socially adept counterparts, but it isn’t for lack of trying. With his little man-purse and portruding belly he’s like a cub scout on his first camping trip with the big kids. But he’s incredibly maladjusted. He’s like a shoe-bomber crossed with a Care Bear and Galifinakis plays it with unblinking sincerity. There’s one bit, early on, where he offers a heartfelt toast to the groom on the rooftop of the fellas hotel. If it isn’t the funniest monologue of the year, it will be for the summer. And it’s chillingly authentic. So much so that it’s hard to tell if the other leads are laughing in character or just out of genuine discomfort.
I can’t keep a straight face and call this movie original or substantive, nor would I recommend taking the whole family or anyone who can’t digest a few dozen F-bombs, some surprisingly brutal beat downs and an eye-full of Ken Jeong’s – ahem – potstickers. But I can say, with full confidence, that your face muscles will hurt when you walk out of the theater. You might call it a laugh hangover. I call it Zach Galifinakisitis.