From "Old School" director Todd Phillips comes a comedy about a bachelor party gone very, very wrong.
Two days before his wedding, Doug (JUSTIN BARTHA) drives to Las Vegas with his best buddies Phil and Stu (BRADLEY COOPER and ED HELMS) and his future brother-in-law Alan (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), for a blow-out bachelor party they vow they'll never forget.
But when the three groomsmen wake up the next morning with pounding headaches, they can't remember a thing. Their luxury hotel suite is beyond trashed and the groom is nowhere to be found.
With no clue about what happened and little time to spare, the trio must attempt to retrace their bad decisions from the night before in order to figure out where things went wrong in the hopes of finding Doug and getting him back to L.A. in time for his wedding.
But the more they begin to uncover, the more they realize just how much trouble they're really in.
The film is directed by Todd Phillips ("Old School") from a screenplay by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore ("Four Christmases").
"TO A NIGHT THE FOUR OF US WILL NEVER FORGET."
The bachelor party is a time-honored tradition. Every weekend across the country, countless men on the brink of their wedding dates are taken out by a select few of their best buddies for a symbolic last hurrah. "Just a few friends getting together," says director Todd Phillips casually, as if to downplay the possibility that anything crazy, dangerous or illegal could ever erupt from such an innocent premise.
"It's such a typical thing to do, they don't even want to call it a bachelor party because they see it more as a guys' night out," he adds. "A nice dinner, some laughs, and a toast to the new groom." You know, "Harmless."
Granted, this night out is awfully close to the day of Doug's actual ceremony…
And yes, his future father-in-law has entrusted him with his prized Mercedes…
And sure, Stu has to lie to his girlfriend about where they're going…
And yes, they're taking along Doug's new brother-in-law Alan, who's socially awkward and somewhat of a loose cannon…
But other than that, what do they have to worry about?
When the foursome checks in to Caesars Palace they're feeling good and relaxed. Stepping out onto Caesars' rooftop to start their evening with a toast amidst the wraparound glow of Vegas lights under the desert sky, they raise their glasses to Doug's upcoming new life and "to a night the four of us will never forget."
And that's the last thing any of them can remember.
The next thing that Phil, Stu and Alan know it's morning and they're sprawled out with their faces on the marble floor. Sunshine streams in through the windows, revealing a palatial suite that is totally trashed.
But that's not so unusual, as bachelor parties go, Phillips grants. "Getting drunk and waking up next to a pile of empty bottles is pretty much par for the course. For a movie about a hangover to end all hangovers, we had to take things a gigantic step beyond. We thought, 'What would be the craziest night you could possibly have and still live to talk about it.'"
"How about, there's a baby in their room, that they've never seen before, and a tiger in the bathroom?," adds producer Dan Goldberg, who marks his fourth feature collaboration with Phillips on "The Hangover," following "Road Trip," "Old School" and "School for Scoundrels."
Party dolls bob atop the Jacuzzi bubbles, a chair still smolders from what appears to have been a fire and an ottoman dangles from the ceiling.
Oh, and one more little thing… the groom is missing.
As the three revelers struggle to regain consciousness, each reacts to the scene in his own way. Leader-of-the-pack Phil surveys the damage with a confident but blurry eye, assumes they had a good time and that Doug will turn up soon. Stu, the worrier, and the one whose credit card is on file with the front desk, launches into a panic that escalates with each new offense he uncovers in the wreckage of their $4,000-a-night suite. And Alan kind of takes it all in with a crazy sense of wonder--that is, once he gets over the fact that he was just standing, half naked, within pouncing distance of a real, live, full-grown tiger.
Bradley Cooper stars as Phil, "the guy with the plan, the fast-talker," says Goldberg. The only one of the group who has experienced marriage and fatherhood, Phil feels a bit restricted by his life as a family man and high school English teacher and was looking forward to this trip as a rare opportunity to cut loose with his old college gang. He's not about to let this little setback ruin his weekend.
"Phil thinks, 'Let's just get some aspirin and take this one step at a time. No need to panic,'" says Cooper. "No matter how uncontrollable the situation becomes, he keeps thinking he can manage it. And he keeps trying, right up to the point where it absolutely gets away from him."
"Bradley is very funny, both on and off the screen, but I think of him more as a leading man, and in this story he takes on the role of the de facto leader. He's the one who emerges from this morning-after mess and tries to get the other two to focus so they can figure out what happened," says Phillips.
Meanwhile, Stu, the sweet but tightly wound dentist with the crushing sense of responsibility and a girlfriend back home who keeps him on a short leash, is far from calm. The only thing that finally takes his mind off the fear of his precious Melissa finding the credit card receipts for this catastrophe is his discovery that, somehow, he has managed to lose a tooth. A first bicuspid, to be exact--right up front, where there is now a gaping bloody space that he cannot begin to explain.
"I was flattered the filmmakers liked me for the part, but at the same time slightly offended, because Stu is kind of a dork, an anal-retentive nervous Nellie character," jokes Ed Helms, who stars as Stu, and who commuted to the Las Vegas set from L.A. to accommodate his shooting schedule for "The Office." "If you break them down to archetypes, Phil would be the cool guy, Alan would be the weirdo and Stu would be the nerd. I have to wonder what it is about me that made them think of me for that particular role…"
Perhaps it's because, Phillips attests, "Ed kills as a hen-pecked, pent-up guy who is long overdue for a complete meltdown."
Of the three, Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, is the one whose temperament is probably best suited to their current situation, but that's not to say he has any answers either. As Stu carries on about his lost tooth and presumably ruined life, and Phil tries to channel their attention with talk of breakfast and a game plan, Alan, draped in a sheet-sarong, casually picks through the trash with childlike curiosity and a certain amount of pride, between bites of a pizza he peeled off a sofa cushion.
As if things could get any worse, Alan's ambling recon soon uncovers an apparently happy, healthy and completely unidentifiable baby, stashed in a corner.
A fan of Galifianakis' inventive stand-up comedy, Phillips knew he would shine in a part crafted to his unique style and creativity, and so cast him as Alan, "a guy with two left feet who always makes the wrong decision."
"Alan is a little bit off. He has no friends and no idea that people think he's weird, because he believes everything he does and says is completely cool and appropriate," explains Galifianakis, who goes on to describe his character as "someone who probably took too many barbiturates at too many raves. The good thing about this role is that it doesn't have to make a lot of sense. Generally, an actor is aware of things like motive and consistency for his character, but Alan functions on his own perverse logic."
"Stuff will come out of his mouth and you don't know where it's coming from," Goldberg affirms. "It can be completely non-referential, but hilarious. Alan is a true outsider but he clearly wants to be friends with these guys, and he does manage to endear himself in his own strange way through this disaster they all go through together."
What these three really need, in more ways than one, is Doug.
Starring as the mysteriously missing husband-to-be, Justin Bartha says, "Doug is the voice of reason in the group. I wanted to make him the guy who tied the other personalities together. He's the common denominator and when he's lost, all hell breaks loose."
Though necessarily absent from a portion of the proceedings, "Doug is vital to the story. He's the glue that holds these guys together and when he goes missing they suddenly seem less like friends and more like a three-way odd couple," observes Jon Lucas, who, with partner Scott Moore, wrote "The Hangover" screenplay. "He becomes the Holy Grail--that one thing the heroes desperately need to find and that we desperately want them to find."
"Luckily," says Moore, "they care enough about him that they're willing to endure everything that comes next, and they stick together to find him no matter how much they might piss each other off."
Phillips concurs. "The best humor comes from the heart. You need to believe that these guys are really concerned about each other and have a genuine connection, and that elevates things beyond just the telling of jokes. It's about exploring the natural humor and awkwardness of male friendships and the kind of things that bond them.
"Comedy is 70% casting," he continues. "Certainly, you need a great story, but beyond that it's about pacing, putting great comic actors into a situation and letting them respond to it and to each other. The script was a blueprint for Bradley, Ed and Zach, and they took it and ran with it. The same was true for each of the actors we cast in supporting roles. When you populate a film with genuinely funny people it helps to keep that momentum going."
"We Did What?"
OK, then; they're on their own and Doug needs them. What can Phil, Stu and Alan do to piece together the events of a night they cannot remember? It's time to empty their pockets and search for clues: receipts, ATM slips, valet tickets, those little plastic bracelets you get at the hospital…
The film's forward-in-reverse structure especially appealed to Phillips as a storyteller. "Starting from that morning, these three have to put their heads together and pursue one potential lead after another that will take them back through every twist and turn and screw-up of the night before and, hopefully, get them to the place where they last saw Doug. And the audience gets to take that ride along with them. You pick up the pieces when they do. In some ways it's like a classic detective story," the director offers.
Except, as Goldberg points out, "These detectives have pounding headaches."
"The beginning of the story lures you in one direction and then completely stops and swings another way," says Cooper.
"You never know what's coming," adds Helms. "Everything is out of left field, every single scene is, like, whoa, where did that come from? But it all fits together. It's not just a lot of disconnected set pieces; every big action or crazy scene moves the story forward and cranks it into overdrive until it all gets justified at the end." Also, he notes, "It gives Zach Galifianakis the opportunity to appear in a jock strap."
Galifianakis himself is still questioning whether or not that's a good thing.
"When you're in a movie and you're wearing a jock, you know you've made it," he responds. "I told Todd, 'We've seen chubby guys in tightie-whities on screen before; what about taking it to the next level?' Of course, he agreed. I can't believe I mentioned it. So now I'm in a jockstrap and my poor mother…. Sorry, Mom."
The trail of clues our hungover heroes unearth will lead them through some of the city's lesser-known "hot" spots, namely: the ER, the Metro Police Station and a wedding chapel somewhere off-off-off The Strip. Clearly, these were not the places the Las Vegas tourism board had in mind when they introduced the slogan "What happens in Vegas…"
Among the principal players in this unraveling tour of shame is Heather Graham, starring as Jade. Graham describes her character as "a stripper/escort with a sweet disposition and a relaxed point of view on true love." Jade might also be, as of approximately 4 hours ago, the wife of a certain still-dazed dentist who is missing a front tooth.
"She's quirky and kind of cool, a hippie stripper. She has no pretense," says Graham, who also happily notes that the role gave her the opportunity to flaunt her pole-dancing prowess, newly acquired in an L.A.-area fitness class. She also offers an interesting conversation she had with a Las Vegas cab driver during production. "He asked me about the movie and I told him it's about these three guys who get wasted and can't remember what they did the night before. He said, 'Yeah, I've had many nights like that.' So I guess a lot of people are going to relate."
Unfortunately, not everyone the guys run into are as nice as Jade.
Rob Riggle of "The Daily Show" appears as Officer Franklin, not exactly one of Las Vegas' finest, but unnaturally talented with a stun gun. Ken Jeong ("Pineapple Express") is the lethal and completely unhinged Mr. Chow, intent on seeking revenge for offenses that neither Phil, Stu, nor Alan have the vaguest recollection of having committed. Finally, comedy club headliner Mike Epps ("Soul Man") involves the three in a sub-plot of mistaken identity that could cost the guys $80,000 they don't have.
But their most dramatic encounter, by far, is with Mike Tyson.
Appearing as himself in the movie, Tyson takes a playful jab at his formidable badass image, performs a little "air drum" number and reminds everyone that, retired or not, he has absolutely, positively still got it.
Stand-up comedy veteran Helms credits the fighter for one of the funniest lines uttered during production. "Todd was giving Tyson direction on how to punch Zach in a scene, and he was saying stuff like, 'Mike, we need you to do it a little more like this and move your hand over a bit.' And Tyson says, 'I can't believe the captain of the high school debate team is teaching me how to throw a punch!' It broke up everyone on the set. Who knew the guy was funny? I've been doing comedy for 10 years; Mike Tyson walks in and he's just like, 'Check it--I'm funnier than you.'"
All in all, Goldberg sums up, "There's a lot of physical comedy. We have big stunts, car crashes, fights, property damage, crazy naked guys, tigers, guys getting punched--it was a tough job."
Production secured renowned stunt coordinator Darren Prescott to handle the rough stuff, but even he had to draw the line somewhere. At one point, Cooper recalls with a laugh, "We had this tasering scene. Now, Todd likes to do things as realistically as possible so it didn't seem completely out of the realm when we heard he wanted us to really get shocked. He was saying, 'C'mon, guys, it's just fifty thousand volts,' and it actually took me a minute to realize he was probably kidding."
Of course, while all of this is going on, Phil, Stu and Alan are still desperately looking for Doug. Remember Doug? He's the reason they're all in this mess. "It's almost like a comedic version of 'Saving Private Ryan,'" Phillips riffs. "With Doug as the missing soldier these guys go through hell to rescue."
Meanwhile, being held at bay on the other end of a mercifully long-distance cell connection is Stu's domineering girlfriend Melissa, played by Rachael Harris ("Notes from the Underbelly"), none too pleased at having lost control of her man for the first time in their entire relationship. Likewise, Doug's reasonable but increasingly frantic fiancée Tracy, played by Sasha Barrese, is fully engulfed in wedding prep back in L.A. and also holding her breath at the other end of a phone. She hasn't heard from her groom-to-be in 48 hours. Every time she calls, she gets voicemail or a hurried response from Phil assuring her that everything is okay.
Tracy's father Sid, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is the only one who remains remarkably calm, considering that he is not only the father of the bride but the owner of a classic Mercedes he loaned to his future--and ostensibly missing--son-in-law. Says Tambor, "Sid is convinced that Doug is just on a heater, and if he knows one thing it's that you never walk away from the table when you're hot."
If only it were that simple.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TODD PHILLIPS (Director/Producer) started his career as a documentary filmmaker, inspired by humor taken from everyday reality and the belief that the truth is often stranger than fiction. His first film, "Hated," portrayed the revolting antics of extreme punk rocker G.G. Allin and became an instant underground sensation. It was released in the summer of 1994 and went on to become the highest grossing student film of its time. He followed that up in 1998 with "Frat House," a documentary that he produced and directed for HBO's popular America Undercover series. "Frat House" premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary features. The unflinching exposé of life in fraternities created a public controversy that eventually caused the film to be shelved by HBO. Phillips still hopes to release it in the future. After meeting producer Ivan Reitman at Sundance, Phillips made his crossover to features with 2000's "Road Trip," which established him as a new force in comedy. He simultaneously produced and directed "Bittersweet Motel," a documentary on musical cult phenomenon Phish. In one way or another, Phillips' films explore the nature of male relationships, and in doing so he has worked with some of Hollywood's biggest comedic actors, writing and directing such films as "Old School" in 2003, "Starsky & Hutch" in 2004, and "School for Scoundrels" in 2006. Phillips was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on "Borat."
JON LUCAS & SCOTT MOORE (Screenwriters) most recently teamed on the romantic comedy "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Their previous writing credits include the hit holiday comedy "Four Christmases," with an all-star ensemble cast led by Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.
READ MORE ABOUT SHOOTING THE FILM
THE CAST TALK ABOUT THEIR CHARACTERS
READ MORE ABOUT HANGOVER PART II
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING