Monday, June 27, 2011
Vegas Movies: The Hangover
BUT! That's not the point of this article. This post will be the first in a series of "regular" (read "semi-regular" or, more accurately, "when I feel like writing them") posts about Vegas movies. And I could start this series by blogging about a Vegas classic like the original "Oceans Eleven" or Scorsese's "Casino" (or even "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous") but because "The Hangover" and stars Zach Galiafianakis (currently memeing hard for a few recent interviews that sparked a "is he an interesting and sensitive artist comedian who is uncomfortable with fame or is he just an asshole debate," one which I find stupid; can't a guy make fun of the bullshitty Hollywood machine without being branded a dick?), Ed Helms, and Bradley Cooper are all popular search terms this summer, I'm going to start the series by talking about the original "Hangover."
Wrong-headed or not, this is a movie that does a pretty good job of exploring the Vegas I'm familiar with and while I've never had a crazy adventure involving Mike Tyson's tiger, a stolen police car, and a naked Asian gangster, I have had my long Vegas dark nights of the soul followed by regret-filled mornings. There's times I've woken up in Las Vegas and wished I could forget the adventures of the previous evening, like the Rufied heroes of The Hangover, who spend most of the picture's running time trying to fill in the gaps of what the eff happened the night before as they search for their friend who is supposed to be married back in Los Angeles before the metaphorical ticking clock built into the screenplay goes off. The fact that the groom-to-be is played by the likable enough yet totally bland Justin Bartha (who is barely in the movie and never really seems like he's friends with the rest of the characters beyond the characters saying out loud what good friends they are), and the fact that his fiancee is beautiful but fleshed out at all as a character (and seems a little bitchy and vain, a symptom of the movie's inability to depict woman as anything other than bitches or naive strippers) make the machinations of said ticking clock a little less suspenseful and urgent, than, say, the work of Alfred Hitchcock.
So anyway... I'm not gonna write a review of a two year old movie that almost everyone on the planet has seen at this point. I'm gonna talk about it in terms of how it stacks up as a Las Vegas movie.
The Hangover sets its heroes loose on an adventure where many Vegas landmarks, ranging from swanky to seedy, are visited/ violated. Though the massive suite the characters check into at Caesars Palace is breathtakingly cool and features a view of The Strip that made me want to get rich enough to stay in such a place as soon as possible, the suite is also the setting where the images that most define the film (and The Hangover franchise as a whole) take place; in the morning after their first night in town, the boys find the suite torn to shreds, with cigars still smoldering in burned out couches, an inhuman number of beer cans strewn about, a chicken wandering around aimlessly, characters with missing teeth and pants, the unexplainable presence of an infant in a closet, and famously, a live tiger in the bathroom. This bombed out suite is what The Hangover is all about, as if the movie were a 2 hour version of the infamous What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas ad campaign launched nearly a decade ago by the city's tourism council (which is a pretty ballsy message for a tourism council, when one really thinks about it).
The boys' wake up in the apocalyptic suite, unable to remember what happened the night before or to locate their friend and the groom-to-be whose impending nuptials they're celebrating. The group's (mis)adventures take them to iconic Vegas locales like the Bellagio, Mike Tyson's house, a quickie wedding chapel (the fictional "Best Little Wedding Chapel," but clearly similar to places like The Strip's famous A Little White Chapel and Chapel of the Bells) where Ed Helms' dentist marries a stripper on a whim, while the movie's famously filthy photo montage features cameos from Vegas icon Wayne Newton yes-he's-still-alive-and-performing Carrot Top.
So how does The Hangover rate in terms of Las Vegas movies? The raunch-fest certainly shows off the "boys behaving badly" side of Vegas that's become the town's popular image (an image the town has been happy to cultivate). And while the gags in The Hangover are raunchy and R-rated, there is nothing particularly shocking or very inventive about the "wolf-pack's" hijimks in the end. The boys end up finding their missing friend and getting him back to LA in time for his wedding, while Bradley Cooper's cadish (or doucheish, depending on how you see him) everyman resumes his normal, married-with-children life after a weekend of "crazy" debauchery; this, is, after all, the very fantasy Vegas is selling in the end, isn't it? Guys can take a weekend off from their responsibilities, get "crunk" in ways that will become legendary to themselves and their friends (and probably boring to anyone else who has to hear their stories) before they return to their normal, passive, consumerist existence. In this fashion, The Hangover is actually kind of an honest depiction of a Las Vegas lost weekend and helps to explain the movie's universal appeal (despite the fact that it gets less funny as it goes on); we can all relate to the idea of weekend in Vegas with our own personal wolfpacks that allowed us to go feral (in our minds at least; in fact this kind of Vegas bad behavior is really an example of participating in controlled, safe and heavily advertised legal consumerism) for a few days before returning to our more boring lives. Though most of us, admittedly, will never discover Mike Tyson's tiger in our hotel suite after a weekend running with the wolves.