Now that most of Canada has seen The Hangover, I don't think I'm going to ruin anyone's idea of a good time by critiquing this flat, unfunny, and structurally bankrupt movie. (Sorry Mom--even she went to see it and liked it I guess.)
I like to laugh just as much as anyone and I don't have art film tastes. My quarrel with The Hangover is that it doesn't even bother to pay lip service to a half-decent story. It's clearly a script that was made up by the writers as they went along.
Job one in a screenplay is to have a central character who engages us. We don't have to like them, but we need to give a damn about what happens to them. I defy anyone to tell me who the central character of this movie was. Was it the tight-assed hen-pecked dentist? The uber-cool playah? The groom? The groom's half-wit future brother-in-law? Beats me. And I do not believe for a second that any two of these characters could be friends with each other, let along be willing to spend a weekend in Las Vegas together. So, like that other fake premise movie The Usual Suspects, this one is bogus from the set up. (And why is The Usual Suspects just as bogus? Maybe if the police lineup actually looked like it was genuine, but as soon as I saw that lineup with 5 men who looked nothing like each other, I knew this whole thing was a set up. The rest of the movie was trying to figure out why the rest of the audience apparently forget every crime movie or episode of Law and Order they'd ever seen. Sigh...)
Back to The Hangover. Lacking a central character, I then hoped that one would eventually emerge as the character who undergoes some kind of demonstrable transformation through the experience of what happens to them. Character change has driven drama since Sophocles wrote Oedipus 2500 years ago. We crave it and that's what audiences love about a story after it's over. They may not be able to spell out why, but even a cursory analysis of what audiences have liked in dramatic storytelling over the past couple millenia, comes back to the same few principles, of which character transformation is in the top 3. The only character who undergoes any kind of change is the idiot dentist who finally has the cohones to dump his shrewish girlfriend, but who didn't know he'd do that after the first scene between them? And as far as transformations go, it doesn't even come close to what John Cleese becomes through his adventures in A Fish Called Wanda. (See, comedies don't have to be stupid to be funny.)
This movie traffics on surprise--the naked Chinese guy jumping out of the trunk, for example--but surprise is a cheap form of movie entertainment. It's the easiest thing for a film to do. Splatter films do it all the time. And that's all this screenplay does. Surprise and or shock for shock's sake--lest we forget the infamous flash frames from the tail credits. But how about a little set up and pay off? Something that doesn't just goose the audience, but actually entertain them with some kind of actual creative work on the part of the screenwriter?
I could go on and on, but it's like shouting off a cliff after the ship has sailed. The entire country went to see this movie. It's enough to make me weep.