Everyone has to learn how to spell Zach Galifianakis’s name … now. Galifianakis, as if you couldn’t tell by who he is/what he looks like, has the Will Ferrell/Tom Green idiot man-child role in the latest film from director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School), and get ready to get sick of hearing your friends repeat the weird shit that comes out of his mouth. If you hang out with those sorts of jag-offs, in fact, you’d better get to a midnight showing, or you’ll know every good joke before you see it (you won’t read any of them here, though). But don’t hold Galifianakis, who before now was best known as either the star of the Tairy Greene and “Between Two Ferns” viral videos or the dude who got his dick stuck in the hot tub in Out Cold, responsible, because he genuinely deserves the attention.
Galifianakis gets first mention because he’s the most important element here, more important than The Office’s Ed Helms, more important than Heather Graham’s bare boobs, and certainly more important than the plot. The story of three guys (Galifianakis, Helms, and Cooper) who lose the groom-to-be (Bartha) during a debauched Vegas bachelor party they can’t remember is basically Dude, Where’s That Other Dude? in the same way Old School is mid-life-crisis Animal House, and the script was penned by the writing team behind Four Christmases and Rebound. Phillips recycles character sheets and even a few gags (the damn Dan Band is back and still incredibly oblivious of proper wedding etiquette) from his previous films, but none of that matters much.
The storyline and character arcs are nearly incidental elements, developed just enough to keep Helms, Cooper, and Galifianakis onscreen together. Cooper (Wedding Crashers, Wet Hot American Summer) is incredibly likeable as cool but somewhat skeezy Phil, and Helms gets in a few good lines as pussy-whipping post Stu, but the two can’t help but play straight man to Galifianakis.
As the socially awkward future brother-in-law, Alan gets a pity invite to the bachelor party, and once Doug (Bartha, who’s appropriately forgettable) disappears, Phil and Stu are left babysitting. They’re (tiny spoiler alert) also stuck looking after a real baby after they discover it’s been left in their hotel room. Leaving a vulnerable infant with Alan and two distracted and almost equally irresponsible men is the basis for a little uneasy humor, but Phillips mostly employs the contrivance to build tension: How far is Phillips willing to go toward the darker comedy of Jody Hill or Todd Solondz?
The answer, as it turns out, is “not very far.” Galifianakis, displaying some serious personality disorders and hinting at being a registered sex offender, seems intent on taking his character into the sort of uncomfortable territory recently explored in Hill’s Observe and Report, but Phillips, for better or worse, prevents the film from following, opting instead for his standard boner jokes and “one damn crazy-ass thing after another” routine.
Phillips, though, is one of the modern boner-joke masters, and his decision to let Galifianakis off the leash makes this buddies-in-Vegas comedy way edgier and more exciting than it has any right to be.
Galifianakis, probably because he’s one of the few comedians who tells jokes that seem to be intentionally not funny, has been prematurely slapped with the Andy Kaufman genius label for a few years now, but here, in front of what will most likely be his largest audience ever, he proves he can get laughs without pandering or sacrificing his inherent strangeness. That’s pronounced Gal uh fuh NACK us, and we’ve got a few years at least before his success triggers a spiteful hipster backlash or overexposure turns him into a self-parody. Get quoting.