The Hangover Part II
Directed by Todd Phillips
Screenplay by Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong
Bradley Cooper as Phil
Ed Helms as Stu
Zach Galifianakis as Alan
Justin Bartha as Doug
Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow
Running time: 102 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: R – the film features knife and car violence, vulgar and sexist language, and female and she-male club performers.
Same Movie, Different Day, City, Year…
If I had to choose one word to describe The Hangover Part II, it would be derivative. No, derivative might be too kind. Redundant. Yes…that seems to fit.
I have to admit, I’ve only seen The Hangover once, when it first came out in theaters. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I thought it was amusing, better than most conventional cinematic comedies, but not fall-on-the-floor hilarious. And I’ve seen the four main characters do funnier stuff, including Bradley Cooper (Wet Hot American Summer) and Justin Bartha (Gigli). Though admittedly, maybe I should have seen it again as the true measure of any great comedy is rewatchability.
Nevertheless, 2009′s The Hangover was a resounding success earning over a quarter-billion dollars domestically and still maintaining the title of highest grossing comedy of all time during a period when every new movie seems to be the highest grossing something of whatever. Realizing that they had a genuine hit on their hands, Warner Brothers green lit a sequel even before the first one hit wide release.
To recap the first film, Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married. Friend Phil (Bradley Cooper) plans the Las Vegas bachelor party along with other friend, milquetoast dentist Stu (Ed Helms). They are forced to include Doug’s future brother-in-law, the socially awkward and somewhat slow Alan (Zach Galifianakis). They wake up in their hotel room the morning-after with hangovers but without Doug whose wedding is a day away. They must put together the pieces of what happened the previous night and find Doug. Stu has a missing tooth, there’s a baby in the closet, and there’s a lion in the bathroom. Along the way they discover that Stu married a whore (Heather Graham, absent from the sequel), that they stole the tiger from Mike Tyson’s house, and that they ran afoul of crime lord Mr. Chow (scene-stealer Ken Jeong). There’s a kidnapping misunderstanding, and a bunch of other zaniness.
In the second film, Stu is getting married in Thailand but is opposed to a bachelor party because of what happened two years earlier. He is forced to include Doug’s current brother-in-law, the still socially awkward and somewhat slow Alan. After having “one drink,” Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up the morning-after in a mysterious Bangkok hotel room with hangovers but without Teddy, Stu’s fiancé’s brother. They must put together the pieces of what happened the previous night and find Teddy. Stu has a face tattoo and there’s a monkey in the closet. Along the way they discover that Stu hooked up with a whore (surprise, it’s a guy), that they stole a monk from a monastery, and that they ran afoul of a “business man” named Kingsley (Paul Giamatti). There’s a kidnapping misunderstanding, and a bunch of other zaniness.
One common complaint I’ve read is that The Hangover Part II is beat-by-beat the same movie as the first one. There’s a reason for this. The Hangover Part II is beat-by-beat the same movie as the first one, right down to the mid-movie Ed Helms song lamenting their situation. The opening with the voicemails/Phil calling his wife leading to flashbacks, the conclusion, the slide show of pictures over the credits (mostly lame except for one photo with Cooper and Jeong, which actually might be the best laugh in the entire movie though I won’t spoil it) all virtual replicas of what became a resounding success two years ago. Unfortunately, as the Multiplicity Rule states, copies are never as good as the original, and this film is no exception.
The jokes are there, but the passion is not. The energy is subdued and the surprises that made the first movie so memorable are lacking. Although the filmmakers tried to up the ante by setting the film in exotic Thailand, having a character sustain a gunshot wound, having another character lose a finger, and having another character hook up with a transgendered (I hope that’s the proper term) whore, all these supercharges lack the necessary impact for success. We’ve seen the progression, we know the chords. The Hangover Part II is a perfect example of the “here we go again” sequel. It’s also another case of hoping that shock supplants comedy. Adding a penis to a hooker might provide an initial laugh, but not one that will stick with you.
Also sorely lacking are the smaller moments that made the first film work. There’s no Officer Rob Riggle or Dr. Matt Walsh. The people who get the amusing moments are the people we expect to get the amusing moments. The Bangkok setting surprisingly adds nothing to the proceedings. Running amok in “civilized” Las Vegas actually had more chaos, a greater sense of danger, and a more intense feeling of isolation than these character stuck in a foreign land where they are repeatedly warned that “Bangkok has [Teddy].” Similarly, the mystery doesn’t really work either. While the journey they took in the first film actually seemed well plotted with each piece connected, the same journey in the second one has much more of a patchwork quality to it.
To be fair, very few comedy sequels work at all. None ever come close to the original, and precious few even hold a rank of decent. Overall, The Hangover Part II does not plumb the depths of follow-ups such as Airplane II: The Sequel or Caddyshack II. Todd Phillips is a talented comedic filmmaker and understands pacing better than many others in the genre. The three stars (plus Jeong) are also very talented, having proven themselves in a myriad of films, television shows, and live performances while maintaining a good chemistry with one another in this one. The Hangover Part II does not replace major figures in the cast (like how Caddyshack II replaced Bill Murray with Dan Aykroyd and Rodney Dangerfield with Jackie Mason, among others). The director remains the same, although the film’s original writers were replaced by Phillips’ regular collaborator Scot Armstrong (Starsky & Hutch, Road Trip, Old School) and Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, Superhero Movie…this actually might explain a lot).
But it’s 2011. The cheap, terrible cash grab sequel was a staple of the 1980s, but in this decade we’ve evolved beyond that (i.e. Superman III would not fly today, no pun intended). As annoying as it might be, the postmodern obsession with meta practically forces filmmakers to become self aware and try harder. A film like The Hangover Part II with high production value, genuine stars both in front of and behind the scenes, and a lot of attention from the press and the public requires more care than what people invested in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. So while The Hangover Part II might not be worse than those aforementioned film, it nevertheless might be a greater disappointment.