Bradley Cooper as Phil Wenneck
Ed Helms as Stu Price
Zach Galifianakis as Alan Garner
Justin Bartha as Doug Billings
Heather Graham as Jade
Sasha Barrese as Tracy Garner
Jeffrey Tambor as Sid Garner
Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow
Rachael Harris as Melissa
Mike Tyson as Himself
Mike Epps as Black Doug
Jernard Burks as Leonard
Rob Riggle as Officer Franklin
Cleo King as Officer Garden
Bryan Callen as Eddie Palermo
Directed by Todd Phillips
It might not seem like rocket science to create a funny movie out of three unlikely friends waking up with a hangover in Vegas, but Todd Phillips masterfully shows that the combination of unexpected ingredients can create a potent chemistry that elevates a simple premise.
Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so he goes with his two best friends Phil and Stu (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms) and his strange future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galafianakis) to Las Vegas for a drunken bachelor party. The next day, the three guys wake up in a trashed hotel suite not remember what happened, and they also can’t find Doug, sending them on a frantic journey across Vegas to find him.
Working under the presumption that anyone of legal drinking age has had one of those nights of debauchery they can’t remember the next day and that anyone who goes to Las Vegas expects that to be the norm, this comedic take on the missing person mystery takes a different look at the way Vegas has been depicted in movies by cutting to the very core of what the Vegas experience is for far too many visitors.
“Old School” creator Todd Phillips is back in fine form with a premise that couldn’t be more high concept – four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party, get drunk and wake up the next day not remembering anything with one of them missing. Where it does diverge from the normal bachelor party comedy e.g. “Bachelor Party” is that we don’t actually see what happened, so much of the fun comes from watching these guys try to determine what happened in the time between a Jagermeister toast on the roof of Caesar’s Palace and waking up in a trashed hotel suite with a tiger chained in the bathroom and a crying baby in their closet. As the guys try to piece together the puzzle of these disparate elements, there are lots of surprises, which are surprisingly still funny even if they’ve been telegraphed or spoiled by the commercials.
What keeps the laughs coming is the strange mix of characters assembled by Phillips. Normally, you wouldn’t expect them to work together, which may be why they’re the perfect fodder for humor, as they’re shot at, punched, mauled and generally put through the wringer. Throughout it all, Bradley Cooper tends to take the straight man role, playing up the machismo and swagger in a way that might remind some of a Matthew McConaughey or Vince Vaughn. Even so, it’s Ed Helms’ Stuart as a guy so hen-pecked by his girlfriend he barely can make a decision on his own, who ends up hooking up and marrying a flighty stripper (played by Heather Graham). He also inadvertently gives her his grandmother’s ring, which he was saving for the girlfriend he can’t even tell he’s going to Vegas. Zack Galifianakis’ Alan isn’t just awkward, but he’s just plain weird, and everything he says or does just makes everyone around him feel uncomfortable, as he’s clearly a loose cannon with possible mental disorders. It’s that odd behavior that allows Galifianakis to steal many scenes, though Helms keeps up, being much funnier than his role on “The Office” since he’s allowed to create a character with more depth.
Throughout their search to find Doug, they run into all sorts of Vegas mainstays like two police officers who have been waiting for an opportunity to get back at the unruly tourists who have made their lives hell. They’re played by Rob Riggle and Cleo King with an amusing amount of interplay that makes the police station sequence one of the funniest in the movie. You’re already likely to have seen a brief glimpse of the caricature Mike Tyson plays of himself, but there’s a lot more to his role than just a cameo done for an easy laugh, and he really brings a lot to the table. By comparison, Ken Jeung plays the effeminate crime boss Mr. Chow so outrageously over-the-top that the character wears on you fairly quickly, even if the characterization does get more laughs than his character in “Role Models.” Other than Graham, who doesn’t really have much to do here, there’s a surprising lack of women in the movie, which might make this as much of a guys’ film as “Old School.”
Phillips’ taste in music is somewhat dodgy as he veers towards the mainstream, but you can kind of forgive his desire to pull out the overused “Who Let the Dogs Out?” because it ties into an earlier gag. The soundtrack does add a lot to the party nature of the film that makes it so easy to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the movie gets less funny as more subplots are piled upon the trio, especially when the angry Mr. Chow blackmails them, taking the story into darker territory. Even so, all of the plot twists are handled in such a creative way that the resolution is satisfying enough that you will want to see more of this group.
The Bottom Line:
This is a solid slice of entertainment, a three-way buddy comedy that never slows down as it keeps the laughs coming with an irreverent sense that anything can happen in Vegas, accompanied by the type of insider knowledge that made movies like “Swingers” and “Ocean’s 11” so enjoyable. Not that Las Vegas needs any more tourism, but one can expect the number of drunken amateurs visiting the city to boom thanks to Phillips’ hilarious romp.