DVD and Blu-ray review of "The Hangover"
Tuesday, December 15, 2009; 12:00 AM
At first, beer-goggled glance, "The Hangover" looks like yet another vulgar comedy about arrested-adolescent, thirty-something men who revel in shirking their adult responsibilities so they can over-imbibe with their buddies. And, let's be honest, it kind of is; this dark portrait of the fuzzy, increasingly frightening aftermath of a Las Vegas bachelor party features its share of bare backsides, bad words and blackouts caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
But "The Hangover" -- out today in a special "unrated" edition on DVD ($34.99) and Blu-ray ($35.99), as well as a standard single DVD ($27.87) and Blu-ray ($34.87) with limited extras -- rises several notches above the lowbrow simply by daring to subvert familiar genres. It's a one-night-of-bacchanalia flick, in which we skip all the drunken revelry and go right to the memory-challenged morning-after. It's a wedding movie in which the groom is missing for 90 percent of its running time. It's a suspense-thriller in which the mystery-solvers come in the form of a whipped wimp (Ed Helms), a school teacher who extorts money from his students (Bradley Cooper) and an overweight social outcast with a hidden admiration for the Jonas Brothers (Zach Galiafianakis).
Actually, that off-center originality may be what turned "The Hangover" into one of 2009's biggest hits, one of the top-grossing comedies of all time (it raked in almost $300 million at the box office) and a film honored by the AFI as one of the year's best. Well, the originality, and all those often funny jokes involving misplaced infants and tigers locked in hotel bathrooms.
The unrated version of the movie that comes with the special-edition DVD and Blu-ray adds seven more minutes of comedic action to the "what-happens-in-Vegas-gets-forgotten-in-Vegas" proceedings, but don't expect anything particularly provocative. The additional content consists mostly of benign scenes involving the husband-to-be (Justin Bartha), his fiancee (Sasha Barrese) and his father-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor). (The special edition also includes the original theatrical release as well as a digital copy of the movie.)
The extras, on the other hand, get pretty clever. An interactive Map of Destruction plots all of the stops on our absent-minded trio's journey toward memory restoration, allowing readers to click on certain locations -- like the suite at Caesars Palace or Mike Tyson's house -- and view featurettes about the production. (The Tyson one is particularly strong; when director Todd Phillips asks the boxing champ if he needs guidance on how to throw a fake punch, Tyson cracks, "The captain of the Jewish debating team is going to teach me how to throw a punch." Meanwhile, Galifianakis -- recipient of said punch -- notes: "There was one take where he actually knocked my beard off. This is not a fake beard.")
Other supplemental highlights include "The Madness of Ken Jeong," a look at the extended takes of the actor's improvisational and borderline maniacal performance as the mysterious Mr. Chow; an eight-minute gag reel focused largely on the cast members' inability to keep a straight face on-camera; a couple of deleted scenes; and, only on Blu-ray, a picture-in-picture commentary track featuring Phillips, Cooper, Galifianakis and Helms. The ability to watch key players while they dish and giggle during their movie is one of the more enjoyable benefits the Blu-ray experience has to offer. But here at least, after the initial novelty fades ("Wow, I can see Bradley Cooper while he's watching himself!"), the entertainment value of the commentary does as well.
In fact, when Galifianakis turns to his cohorts early into the track and jokingly says, "Are you guys going to talk the whole movie? Because I can't hear anything," viewers may be inclined to agree with him. Warner Bros. has done a nice job of extending "The Hangover" experience, but ultimately, what most people really want is to sack out, slack-jawed, on their sofas and experience every off-color, stuck-in-a-stupor moment this comedy has to offer.