Reel Rumbles #17 – “The Hangover” vs. “Inglourious Basterds”
In This Corner…
One is the most successful R-rated comedy of all time, while the other is an ornery return to form for one of cinema’s greatest living directors. Amazingly enough, both hit theaters in the same year and rank indisputably as two of 2009’s best films. Filled with breakout performances, smart scripts, and non-linear structures, they are unique entries in each of their respective genres: one, because each borrows from the other’s specialties; and two, because they are incredibly funny. This week’s Reel Rumbles is a war you won’t be able to forget no matter how many roofie-spiked Jaeger shots you put through your system. Ladies and gents, Flickchart proudly presents: The Hangover vs. Inglourious Basterds.
Round One: Story
In The Hangover, three buddies treat best friend Doug (Justin Bartha) to a Las Vegas bachelor weekend that no one will ever be able to forget – if only they can remember! Sometime early in the evening, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), are drugged. They wake up in their ridiculously expensive room, which has been torn all to hell, with no memory of the night before, or the whereabouts of the groom-to-be. They have a tiger in the bathroom. A rooster roaming about. Stu is missing a tooth. Complicating matters further, the valet brings them a police car. One of their mattresses is suspended from the building several stories over the city. And there is a baby in the closet. What unfolds is a hilarious series of adventures that find the boys on the wrong side of Mike Tyson and vicious Asian gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), as they search for their dearly departed MacGuffin. What happened to their friend? Will they survive the dangers ahead? And if so, will there still be a wedding waiting for them when they return? The mystery unfolds with lots of laughs and a surprising touch of Hitchcockian suspense; but more on that later.
Inglourious Basterds is a most unique take on World War II, as it could only be told through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino. A loose remake, more of homage really to the original Bo Svenson-Fred “The Hammer” Williamson B-movie, this effort from Tarantino follows a group of Special Forces men with only one goal in mind: killing Nazis. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), this group of soldiers is even more noteworthy based on the fact they are basically a Dirty Dozen of bloodthirsty Jews hell-bent on righteous vengeance. With characters like Eli Roth’s bat-swinging Bear Jew and Til Schweiger’s sadistic ex-Nazi war prisoner Hugo Stiglitz – not to mention Raine himself – this is one war film worth revisiting based on the welcome glorification of violence toward those who deserve it and a one-two punch of comedy and suspense. Forget about what you think you know of WWII history and prepare to be thrilled by QT’s alternate reality.
The stories run neck and neck to the end of round one, but for me, it is The Hangover that best uses its wits in twisting old concepts to form an undeniably captivating new design. Inglourious Basterds is fun and straight forward, but it is the outrageous nature of its competition that wins the round. Advantage: The Hangover, 10-9.
Round Two: Script
The Hangover is a clever film not just in its story but its execution. While the concept is very lighthearted and amusing, the film plays, thanks to a wonderful script by writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (co-writers of Four Christmases, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), as if it were a smut comedy directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s a film composed less by jokes than clues – clues that happen to be funny. Anyone who has ever had a few too many in them has experienced the surreal quality of not remembering the things they did while intoxicated, or remembering them incorrectly. Our three heroes in The Hangover follow the former path to the extreme. The MacGuffin, an object that a protagonist aspires to attain which actually represents something deeper, is their friend Doug. Each protagonist needs something different. Phil must be reminded of the commitments he has made and the relationships he has kept. He must be the man that his loved ones deserve. Stu requires self-respect, something he has lost in his abusive relationship. Alan yearns for acceptance and true friendship, two feelings he’s never experienced before. Doug is the glue that holds them together, but as long as he is there, the three use him as an excuse to refrain from their own personal growth. With Doug out of the picture, especially under these circumstances, they are forced to find their own paths to fulfillment and redemption.
In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino puts up a fight with his trademark dialog and his wise choice to focus on the female characters more than one would expect. He also follows the villain more than his actual heroes, who simply remain a hovering presence with just the right amount of cool and viciousness that we eagerly look forward to every scene in which they appear. Like most all of QT’s efforts, it’s a quality piece of writing. It just isn’t anything new, and in this case, not quite as good as its opponent. Fret not, Quentin fans, this is a strong film, but its real strengths lay elsewhere, making this another round for The Hangover.
Round Three: Performances
Jeong (Role Models) is underused in The Hangover. His Mr. Chow is uncontrollably hilarious, though not the film’s best asset. Cooper (Midnight Meat Train) is content to walk the tightrope between laugh and leading man territories, but it’s Helms (TV’s The Office) and Galifianakis (Out Cold) who establish themselves as the new heavyweight contenders of the comedy division. The dynamic between this trio is earthy and believable even as the events spiral out of control. Tyson’s extended cameo is also a welcome addition along with the return of Heather Graham (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) as a stripper with a heart of gold, who finds herself married to one of the boys and helping them out as the stakes grow higher to retrieve their buddy Doug, safe and sound. With all its unexpected star power, however, The Hangover doesn’t have enough to topple the stunning cast Tarantino assembles in his Basterds. From Pitt’s comic relief to the ruthlessness of Schweiger and Roth, there is plenty to like about the Basterds themselves, but it is the performances of the two female leads, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger that really captivate, and not even they can hold a candle to the cold, menacing Christoph Waltz, playing Colonel Hans Landa, a performance that, if it doesn’t win an Academy Award, certainly should. All of this combines for a slight edge for the Basterds, 10-9.
Round Four: Direction
Director Todd Phillips understands the rampant immaturity as well as the inherent decency that we all possess as men. He knows how to show our reprehensible sides while still making us lovable, and he is, in this case, able to produce a narrative that gets male bonding down to its purest essence. In the heart of every guy, there is a party monster clawing its way to the surface – a wild side that needs to show up and show out every now and again. While these three characters would have likely never created the situations they find themselves in on their own volition, it is exactly what they need to edify their relationships, both with one another and the women who love them. But it is the perfectionist Tarantino doing what he does best with structure, pacing, and reverence for the classics that take this round. Borrowing from classic war films, westerns, and even silent horror (as depicted with the hauntingly memorable theater inferno sequence), QT creates his own entry in the war genre that carries with it the artistic craftsmanship of Sergio Leone and the thrilling fun of a top flight summer blockbuster. It is an Oscar caliber effort, and earns the Basterds a 10-8 advantage.
And the Winner Is…
On paper, a Todd Phillips raunchy comedy versus a Quentin Tarantino war drama doesn’t seem like it would be a close contest, but when you actually watch, you realize picking a winner is a much harder decision to make than it ever should be. Phillips’ effort is a smarter take on its genre, and has a lot of fun playing in other sandboxes. But ultimately, it is Tarantino’s relentless love of film, his striking use of both humor and imagery, and the bone-chilling performance of Christoph Waltz that places the Basterds over the top.
Inglourious Basterds – SPLIT DECISION