When things go wrong for us, it’s tragedy. When they go wrong for someone else, it’s funny. As Alan Dale says, comedy is a man in trouble. This comedy gives us four men in a lot of trouble following a debauched, drug-fueled bachelor party in Las Vegas who wake up with no recollection of what happened and no idea what has happened to one’s missing tooth, another’s missing mattress, and, most significantly, no groom. The one whose wedding is being celebrated, the one whose wedding is taking place the next day, has disappeared.
Meanwhile, there are some items in the trashed hotel room with the still-smoking chair that no one recalls having seen before, including a chicken, a tiger, and an infant. At the beginning of the evening, they toasted “to a night the four of us will never forget.” By the next morning, the three remaining guys cannot remember anything that happened, and the rest of the movie has them racing all over to figure out where they went, what they did, and how the groom managed to disappear without a trace.
In one respect, it’s just a cheerfully outrageous comedy, with much of the humor coming from our discovering along with the hapless trio of boy-men chafing at the bonds of civilization just how appallingly they have violated every possible standard of appropriate behavior and good taste. It’s your basic best of both worlds comedy where we get to see our most childish wishes fulfilled and then get to see the characters on screen suffer the punishment for it. But it is also a whacked-out variation on “The Wizard of Oz,” with characters in need of a heart, a brain, and courage going on a journey to an exotic land and learning that there’s no place like home.
Doug (Justin Bartha) is about to get married and so his two best friends take him to Las Vegas for one last bachelor blow-out. They are Phil (Bradley Cooper), a teacher who is married with a son and says that he hates his life in need of a heart, and Stu (“The Office’s” Ed Helms) an uptight dentist who is about to propose to his controlling, unfaithful shrew of a girlfriend, who needs some nerve. That leaves Alan (comedian Zach Galifianakis) who is lacking brains. He’s along for the ride because he is the bride’s brother. And the gorgeous mint-condition Mercedes convertible is what they are riding in, thanks to what is inevitably going to be shown to be a very foolish gesture on the part of the prospective father-in-law. The wicked witch part, of course, is shared by nearly every woman on screen.
Cooper is a comic actor trapped in the very appealing body of a leading man and Helms (who gamely had his fake tooth removed for authenticity) provides able counterpoint as the conflicted Stu. Galifianakis looks like a cross between a Hobbit and a garden gnome and a little of him goes a long way, but he manages to be less obnoxious than expected. And they run into an engaging variety of characters along the way including an emergency room doctor, a drug dealer (Mike Epps), an effeminate gangster, an earthy wedding chapel manager, and of course an “escort” with a heart of good (a very game and, as ever, alluring and adorable Heather Graham).
The film’s most disappointing element is its casual sexism. Aside from the escort, all of the women come across as shrewish and narcissistic. But other than that, like predecessors “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” the movie has an essential sweetness that disinfects its raunchiest moments.
This is a movie about what went on in the community near Woodstock while the concert that would forever be known by that name was happening. And a happening. In other words, this is a footnote movie. It tries to make the town a metaphor and counterpoint, a sort of counter-counter-culture, with reactions to and some participation in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that was going on nearby, but it is impossible to watch it without wanting to ask the characters to move to one side because they are obstructing our view of Jimi Hendrix.
Those who remember the now-iconic moments from the classic documentary may enjoy seeing a few brief in-jokes (the interview with the port-a-potty guy, the nun flashing the peace sign) and some will appreciate the combination of vision and happenstance that led to the festival and its place in public consciousness as a marker for a generational shift. But director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Sense and Sensibility”) falters when he tries to tie it all to his favorite theme of the internal struggle with repressed desires.
Jonathan Groff is sweetly beatific as concert organizer Michael Lang and Liev Schreiber is nicely matter-of-fact as Vilma, a pistol-packing cross-dressing vet. But the best parts of the movie are the details around the edges. The story of Elliot (a likable Demetri Martin), a Greenwich Village decorator caught up in the struggles of his parents’ failing Catskills motel is not involving or illuminating enough to hold the screen. His New York Jewish parents, despite the best efforts of Brits Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman, are the usual bickering stereotypes. Emile Hirsch is the usual crazed Vietnam vet stereotype. A troupe of college actors is there only to show Elliot’s interest in the arts and to take their clothes off. An LSD trip sequence is, as LSD trip sequences are, more boring than listening to someone else telling what happened in his dream. And it is difficult to feel any tension when some of the neighbors try to stop the concert because we all know how it turned out.
“The Goods” is an unabashedly outrageous comedy about a team of hard-charging, harder-living, hardest-partying “mercenary” car salesmen who go from town to town for short-term sales promotions, racking up huge sales numbers, eating take-out, going to strip clubs, getting wasted, and having sex. They like to talk about how they don’t break the rules, but they bend them pretty far. They have each other’s back and don’t trust civilians (anyone who has settled down in one place). They behave immaturely but they think a lot of themselves, and we know this because they tell us. In very graphic terms.
I know what you’re thinking: Apatow, Sandler, or Ferrell?
It’s Ferrell (whose cameo is one of the movie’s highlights). Will Ferrell’s production company is behind this movie, which explains how it manages to be both nasty and genial. Jeremy Piven tweaks his “Entourage” character as Don Ready, a guy who can talk his way into or out of just about anything, including not just being allowed to smoke on a plane but being cheered by every passenger and flight attendant for each puff. Farrell regulars David Koechner, Rob Riggle, Kathryn Hahn (especially funny), and Craig Robinson are joined by “The Hangover’s” Ed Helms and Ken Jeong, the “look, I’m not really the stiff you think I am” James Brolin and Alan Thicke, and the “I define what is cool” Ving Rhames.
Humor can serve many purposes, and one of the most enduring is the chance to see someone say and do things we are not allowed to, and then get away with it, and then not get away with it. The guys who say offensive things are not as bad as the guys who do offensive things but are not manly enough to be profane. And that is the foundation of this film. It’s Ferrell’s viral sensation “The Landlord” made with (chronological) adults. This is slash and burn, shock and awe comedy and it’s cheery outrageousness makes enough of it work to, in Don Ready’s terms, make the sale.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Young Victoria,” with Emily Blunt as the teenager whose reign as queen of England defined an era. It is produced by Sarah Ferguson, former daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. And there’s also the romantic comedy about an estranged couple who are stuck with each other in the witness protection program, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. But the big news this week is “Avatar,” now officially the most expensive film of all time, from James Cameron, whose last record-breaking budget led to record-smashing box office returns: “Titanic.” “Avatar” is a 3D animated story about a world of 10-ft blue creatures with tails and the humans who interact with them via computer-generated substitutes. That review will be up late Friday; the others on Thursday night.