Vegas Movie Spotlight of the Month: ‘The Hangover’

Every month, we spotlight a quintessential Las Vegas movie

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that “The Hangover” invented the Las Vegas of the 2010s. Only “Viva Las Vegas” and Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” have had as significant an impact on the public perception of Las Vegas, and in the case of “Casino,” its influence was more about looking back than forward. “The Hangover” partially depicts Las Vegas as it existed in 2009, but it also depicts a Las Vegas that existed only in the imaginations of filmmakers and audiences. The movie essentially willed that version of Vegas into reality thanks to its massive success.

Some of the Vegas vision of “The Hangover” admittedly relies on clichés. Before buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) head to Vegas for Doug’s bachelor party, Doug’s future father-in-law Sid (Jeffrey Tambor) utters the now-tiresome catchphrase “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” When Doug is running late for his wedding a few days later, Sid reminds everyone that there are no clocks or windows in casinos. The Vegas of “The Hangover” is a city of high-stakes gamblers, gentlemen’s clubs, and quickie wedding chapels, but it’s also a city where literally anything can happen.

That’s exactly the problem for Phil and Stu, along with Doug’s fiancée’s weirdo brother Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who wake up the morning after the bachelor party in a demolished Caesars Palace luxury suite with no memory of what happened the night before. 

They’re also missing Doug, and the main plot of “The Hangover” involves the trio piecing together the previous night’s events while trying to locate Doug in time for his wedding. That allows them to go on a tour of Las Vegas, from the glamorous to the seedy, showcasing the utter craziness that draws visitors to Sin City.

They eat brunch at the Caesars pool, where they’re surrounded by gorgeous women in bikinis, at the height of the Vegas dayclub era. They travel downtown to the Best Little Chapel, where Stu learns that he married exotic dancer Jade (Heather Graham), and later to the not-yet-gentrified East Fremont, where they’re attacked in front of Atomic Liquors by crazed gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). 

They meet Mike Tyson, who invites them to his mansion so they can return the tiger they stole from him. Vegas icons Carrot Top and Wayne Newton appear in a closing-credits photo montage, but Tyson is the central Vegas celebrity of “The Hangover.” Phil and Alan, a blackjack wizard, recreate the famous “Rain Man” shot of Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman descending the Caesars Palace escalator onto the casino floor, but the iconography of “The Hangover” itself eclipsed any previous Vegas onscreen representations.

The madcap energy, charismatic characters, and raunchy, often dark humor of “The Hangover” make it nearly as fun to watch now as it was in 2009, and it’s still easy to see why fans of the movie would crave to experience the Vegas it portrays. This is a place where everything is heightened and your whole world can change in an instant, where the most memorable moments of your life could all happen within a single day.

Caesars Palace famously built a “Hangover” suite to accommodate guests who kept requesting to stay in the movie’s villa, which was created on a sound stage—and the rest of the city molded itself accordingly.

“The Hangover” is streaming on Netflix.

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