'The Hangover': About Last Night, By Kurt Loder

Bradley Cooper heads up a crew of guys gone wild in Las Vegas.

The phrase "bachelor party in Vegas" suggests a specific sort of movie — a raunchfest filled with booze, babes and fratboy delirium.

[movie id="369201"]"The Hangover"[/movie] is a more interesting and much funnier film. The four friends it follows from their native Los Angeles to the desert casino kingdom are in their early thirties, so they're well-defined personalities. Doug ([movieperson id="318749"]Justin Bartha[/movieperson]), the groom-to-be, is an amiable straight arrow, and his two best friends are likewise nice guys: Phil ([movieperson id="256873"]Bradley Cooper[/movieperson]) is a teacher who loves his wife and kid, and Stu ([movieperson id="354576"]Ed Helms[/movieperson]) is an excitable dentist with a girlfriend, alas, from hell. The only wild card is burly, bearded Alan ([movieperson id="248471"]Zach Galifianakis[/movieperson]), Doug's soon-to-be brother-in-law. Alan appears possibly to have been hit in the head with a shovel earlier in life. He says things like, "I'm not supposed to be within 20 feet of a school." He's worrisome.

Their bachelor wingding is of course a disaster, but the movie, in a very clever move, doesn't show it to us. We see only the aftermath, with daylight flooding their $4000-a-night Caesar's Palace suite (which Stu has unwisely put on his credit card) to reveal a scene of extreme post-party ruination. There's a smoldering chair, a beautiful girl in a bath towel and an inexplicable chicken. There's also a tiger. And Stu has lost a front tooth, and somebody has left a baby in one of the closets. Most troubling, though, is Doug, who's missing. Where to look for him? Since Phil has blearily discovered an ID tag on his wrist from a local hospital, maybe start there. Bring the baby.

The story of the previous night's debauch is thus told in reverse, and very inventively. The hospital visit leads the boys to a Vegas wedding chapel, where one of them discovers that he apparently got married the night before. (The chapel owner graciously agrees to file an annulment, but he'll need the bride to sign off on it, and she — whoever she is — is nowhere in evidence.) Then there's a police bust, a painful Taser demonstration, a daffy Mike Tyson interlude and an angry naked Asian hoodlum named Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong of "Knocked Up," in a rare fit of overacting) demanding the return of $80,000 if they want to see Doug alive again. The guys have no idea what he's talking about, but they hear the high-stakes card tables calling.

The intricate plot choreography has a giddy rush, and the actors are just right for their roles. Bartha's missing Doug doesn't get much screen time, of course (nor does Heath er Graham, who does a sweet turn as a stripper-slash-escort). But Helms is a winsome fidget (with true love lurking in his very near future) and Cooper brings a necessary sexy presence to a character who's circumscribed by a solid domestic commitment. Galifianakis operates in some strange ozone all his own (is it true you can't get "beep sig" in Caesar's Palace?), but in the end he saves the day anyway, sort of. The movie was directed by Todd Phillips ("Old School"), and while its boisterous fun has strong libidinous overtones, it never takes the plunge into full, frothing raunch. We've been there, though. Being here is a nice change.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "Land of the Lost" and "Downloading Nancy," also new in theaters this weekend.

Check out everything we've got on "The Hangover."

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