— If you’ve seen the trailer for “The Hangover,” then you’ve pretty much seen all the funny parts. You’ve probably also unspooled a movie in your head that’s way more fun than what’s actually screening in theaters.
While the film offers an entertaining premise — three guys wake up after a boozy bachelor party in Vegas unable to find the groom or to remember what went down the night before — “The Hangover” doesn’t deliver the kind of fast-paced farce that the plot portends. There are some laughs to be had, but not nearly enough.
It’s a few days before Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so he plans to head to Vegas for one big blow-out with his two best friends — cynical schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), who thinks getting tied down with a wife is a big mistake despite being wed himself, and dentist Stu (Ed Helms), who’s keeping the trip secret from his shrewish girlfriend (Rachael Harris).
Along for the ride is brother-of-the-bride Alan (Zach Galifianakis), whose social awkwardness is nothing short of epic. The quartet piles into the prize Mercedes convertible belonging to Alan’s dad (Jeffrey Tambor) and heads off to Sin City for one wild night.
Wilder, as it turns out, than they had expected: Alan, Phil and Stu wake up in their suite at Caesar’s Palace with throbbing headaches. And Stu is missing a tooth. And there’s a tiger in the bathroom. And a baby in the closet. And a chicken in the living room. And Doug is nowhere to be found.
Given that the rest of the movie is obviously going to be about how these guys piece together the events of the previous night, you’d expect some precise comedy clockwork from the script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the guilty parties responsible for “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Four Christmases”). But no, things are just sloppily thrown together with very few comic payoffs. (The chicken, for one, is never explained.)
For some reason, almost everyone the guys encounter during their night of debauchery — from wedding-chapel owners to thugs to cops to Mike Tyson — are people of color, giving the proceedings a queasy sense of White Panic. Not that “The Hangover” is even smart enough to realize that it has done so, but it’s just odd to see this parade of wacky Middle Easterners and bad-tempered Asians with no apparent cultural context.
Not that we should expect anything resembling intelligence from Lucas and Moore, who have now subjected audiences to three different movies in a six-month period that offer wacky situations — visiting four parents on Christmas! a Lothario is confronted by all the girls he’s dumped! — but nothing in the way of recognizable human beings or genuinely funny ideas or jokes.
The only reason to see “The Hangover” is stand-up comic Galifianakis, who’s not afraid to make Alan bizarre or even unsettlingly creepy as the movie goes along; you can tell that he abandoned the weak script at some point and just decided to run with it.
If you’ve seen his work in “The Comedians of Comedy” or “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” or the online “Between Two Ferns” shorts, you know he’s one of the people who’s currently pushing the envelope of contemporary comedy. So while a movie like “The Hangover” is as tame and retrograde as Galifianakis is daring and boundary-breaking, casting him in a lame studio project like this one gives the film an edgy cachet it so desperately needs.
Helms brings a certain bounce to things — as does Harris, in a thoroughly thankless role — while Cooper merely plays on his smarm factor. Unfortunately for him, the movie ultimately wants us to like Phil, but Cooper has been too effective in turning him into a jerk.
“The Hangover” feels very much like a first draft featuring the jokes that writers came up with during one meeting, with no efforts to make it any smarter or even more outrageous. The result is a mildly funny “Memento.” For and by dummies.
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.