By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
For perspective’s sake, let me start with a confession: Tropic Thunder made me laugh aloud several times, even after the misgivings I had about Kirk Lazarus. The Alpa Chino twist in the village was brilliant, even if the villagers were written like something out of an Oliver Stone wet dream. And I regularly laugh as much as I grimace at South Park and Family Guy, neither of which is exactly friendly to … well, anybody. So I’m not opposed to “lowbrow” humor.
What I cannot abide is brainless humor. And so, when I tell you that The Hangover is celluloid excrement, I don’t say it lightly. I refuse to believe that it’s “just me.” But I’m telling you, R readers: this isn’t a comedy, or even a film. I’m now halfway convinced it’s proof those cheeky Hulu “alien plot” commercials are really taunting messages of truth from our secret alien overlords. Sure, you might say, “just turn your brain off, it’s a movie,” but don’t you need a working brain to enjoy any movie?
Ostensibly a Las Vegas travel ad masquerading as a bro-mantic comedy, the root of the problem is one common to a lot of modern comedies: we’re dealing not with characters, but anthropomorphic third-rate comedic tropes – Phil the Player (Bradley Cooper), Alan the Weirdo (Zack Galifanakis) and Stuart the Wuss (Ed Helms). Coding them as such is believable when you start a film, but there’s barely a hint of personal development, let alone the “growing up” moments that usually permeate these types of films.
What makes Hangover different, I suppose, is that Doug, the groom-to-be and Sensible Guy (Justin Bartha) doubles as the Macguffin, as his disappearance spurs the remaining trio to retrace their steps around town. Along the way, they’re seemingly beset upon by “wacky” characters of various stripes – specifically, different POCs.
There’s the effeminate Asian gangster (Ken Jeong) and his aggro henchmen; the incompetent POC Officer Garden (Cleo King, playing second banana to The Daily Show’s Rob Riggle); and, of course, Mike Tyson, here playing a Dr. Evil-fied caricature of himself. Even the non-aggressive POC characters, Eddie the chapel owner (Brian Callen, who’s of Italian and Irish descent but who’s character is vaguely coded as being Not From Around Here) and The Other Doug (Mike Epps) don’t amount to anything. I swear, when Epps’ character said, “Dere you go with dat word again” – and I tell you that he said dere instead of “there” – I cringed so hard my spine must have cracked. Eddie, who tries to defend the boys against the gangsters, gets shot and is literally left behind, never to be seen again. How could we not root for these guys, right?
As is also typical in this new school of comedy, women don’t fare any better. Besides the villains in Vegas, we meet Doug’s fiancee Tracy (Sasha Barrese) and Stuart’s girlfriend Melissa (Rachael Harris), both generic hen-peckers. The former almost chews Doug out at the altar before he grovels for forgiveness, and Harris’ character isn’t allowed even one bit of humanity; she goes from Zero to Shrew instantaneously. The one woman who means well, Heather Graham’s escort/stripper with a heart of gold – wow, no lazy fetishization there, right? — is, along with Eddie, the only other person in town who isn’t trying to screw the boys over. But even Jade comes out a loser in the end; come on, does anybody really believe Stuart is going to go see her again? He barely even breaks up with Harris’ character in a wet blanket of a “comeuppance” scene.
The only POCs who seem to do well are the ones on the soundtrack – at least, in the first act of the film, when tracks by Usher, Kanye West and T.I are used to show us how “cool” the whole scene is before the evening degenerates. The film’s denouement, at the wedding, gives us a white singer “ironically” ripping through “Candy Shop” and “Fame” in what, intentionally or not, comes off like a frat-boy Sexual Chocolate ripoff. Memo to Dan Finnerty: You’re not the Eddie Murphy of 2008, pal, let alone 1988.
But the worst offense are the final three shots before the credits fill the screen. As the film concludes, we get to see pictures of what really went down during the night in question. These three doofs shown cavorting with POC strippers is one thing. The image of Stuart punching Wayne Newton might have made for part of a genuinely funny scene. But the final three shots, depicting Alan getting oral sex from an elderly woman of color, went beyond “edgy” and otherwise lazy filmmaking into something genuinely sickening. And the people around me in the theater were laughing! I wanted to stand up in the theater and yell TELL ME WHY YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY! Was it funny because she was old? Because Alan is “off”? Is this what “turning my brain off” would allow me to enjoy?
So this isn’t like I think Hangover director Todd Phillips’ other noted work, Old School, was the tops of hilarity. But even in that movie, the characters possessed humanity – a quality none of the principals here seem to posess. Also, consider Friday, another comedy that became a hit by featuring “regular guys.” Not only would Craig, Ice Cube’s character, not have wanted to perpetrate an image like Alan’s, but do you think people would have dismissed it as “mindless humor” if, as the film’s co-writer, Cube had written him to?
The audience laughing around me at those final shots left me with a scary thought: that this really could be America’s #1 Comedy. It’s little wonder Sacha Baron Cohen is able to do what he does so easily. Maybe we’ve had it wrong all along – Borat and the upcoming Bruno aren’t comedies at all – they’re horror movies, holding up the mirror to our new idea of funny. And we can’t even see the cracks, because we’re too busy being “entertained.” Turn your brain off at your peril.