Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II is perhaps the prototypical example of a studio sequel: increase the budget, increase the scope, repeat the schtick that worked the first time. But does it work as effectively the second time?

The Hangover Part II
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong

When Stu (Ed Helms) decides to get married in Thailand, his best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are naturally invited to the wedding. But thanks to their previous misadventure, Stu holds a bit of a grudge toward Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and refuses to invite him along. Fifteen minutes into the movie - following a "Denny's bachelor party" scene, and with much guilt heaped upon him - Stu has a change of heart and the Wolf Pack is reunited. Don't ask how the wives and girlfriends get to Thailand - just like the first film, this movie isn't concerned with women in the slightest. They pop up occasionally, but this is a Todd Phillips movie and as this great piece in the New York Times points out, that means this is a bro-centric comedy through and through. Here, the crew is forced to take Stu's soon-to-be-brother-in-law Teddy along for the festivities, much like Alan himself in the first movie. But unlike Alan, Teddy is a sixteen-year-old Asian kid and the apple of his father's eye - so of course, when the inevitable blackout occurs a couple nights before the wedding, Teddy is lost to Bangkok and the disoriented (no pun intended) members of the Wolf Pack have to retrace their steps to find him.

Sound familiar? Because of their surface similarities, I wouldn't begrudge you voicing the opinion that "if you liked the first movie, you'll probably like the sequel." After all, the two movies are nearly identical; from the returning cast to the structure to some of the jokes, it's almost close enough to be called a remake. But if you look a bit closer, there are some aspects of the movie that don't quite gel. Beware: massive spoilers ahead.

Personally, I didn't find the movie to be that funny. Don't get me wrong: there were people in my audience cracking up left and right, so I know this style of comedy works for a lot of people. I just don't happen to be one of them. I'm sure there were people who listened to me laughing out loud in the theater during Anchorman and walked out shaking their heads saying, "I just don't get it." That's the thing about comedy. Also, I'll be the first to admit I didn't even like the first Hangover all that much. I found it clever, but ultimately overrated. So in the interest of providing you a baseline from which I'm operating, I wanted to let you know that.

The thing that kind of bothered me about this movie is that even though the scope is definitely increased (the movie was clearly shot in Thailand, and looks alternatingly beautiful and horrifying due to its locations), the characters don't react much differently to the crazy things that happen to them than they did to the much-milder-by-comparison events of the first movie. Let's take the big one for starters: Stu is anally violated by a transvestite. After a few minutes of quiet crying and freaking out, the characters move on and that seems to be the end of it. Yes, it's mentioned once more in a crude wordplay joke when Stu says "I have a demon in me" in his final speech, but that's it. Everything's seemingly fine. To me, that seems like a life-shattering event, one that overshadows finding Teddy or anything else for that matter. Phil is shot in the arm at one point, and after a brief jaunt to the hospital, it's forgotten that even happened by the end of the movie. Teddy even loses a finger, for God's sake. There are other examples of this, but that'll do for the purposes of this argument.

Also, the connections between events are even more sketchy than those of the first film. These movies aren't meant to be taken literally, but at the same time, Phillips goes out of his way to make them seem relatable and kind of plausible. Getting lazy when it comes to connecting the dots feels like it's cheating the movie in a way. At one point, the characters come across a bar they destroyed the night before and just so happen to see Stu's tattooed face on a nearby building. Inside, the tattoo artist sees a tattoo on an old mute monk the guys are lugging around and informs them it's the symbol of his monastery right outside the city limits. There are multiple aspects (including the cause of their blackout) that seemed to stretch the limits of plausibility for me, and that plausibility was a large part of what makes The Hangover watchable.

But put down your pitchforks, folks: it's not all negative. There were a few aspects of Part II I did enjoy. Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow was much funnier this time around; it's the rare instance in which a small character is given a larger role in a comedy sequel and is actually less annoying than in his initial appearance. I think I would have been happier if they had killed him off with the drug overdose, since that would have been an interesting plot development in a series that consists of mostly tired cliches (hooker with a heart of gold, domineering Asian father, etc). But when he returns late in the movie, it's to the film's benefit. Paul Giamatti was woefully underused, but I liked his character and performance for the brief time we saw him. And though it may sound as if I've berated this movie for repeating the same structure as the first movie, I actually found it kind of cool in certain areas. Stu's song on the boat was charming, and the opening scene featuring Phil's phone call framed in the exact same way as the first movie but with Bangkok looming in the background was fun to see.

While this is definitely a watchable comedy, it doesn't have nearly the same fresh feeling that defined the original. It's a retreading of the same material in a different location, a safe sequel that should have felt brazen but ultimately comes off as pretty stale. If you love seeing full frontal transvestite nudity in larger-than-life venues, then by all means, see this in theaters. But otherwise, I think you're good to wait for DVD with this one. And by the way - where is Doug this whole time? Sipping Mai Tai's at the resort, explained away so he can be the "man on the inside" back at the wedding. Why doesn't he get to come along and experience the adventure with the other guys? If anyone's getting cheated out of anything in this franchise, it's Justin Bartha's visibility as an actor. Until next time...

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