Saturday, May 28, 2011
Hungover: The Hangover Part II Reviewed
Released in the summer of 2009 on the heels of an outstanding trailer, the R-rated comedy surprised the world by beating the second weekend of Pixar's excellent Up to top the box office. During weekend two, The Hangover landed atop the box office again, dropping a mere 27 percent. That's word of mouth at work. That's a movie people love. By the time the dust settled, The Hangover had grossed $277 million domestically, another $190 million worldwide, and became the biggest comedy ever.
All of which is to say that the sequel seemed like a forgone conclusion. After all, Hollywood economics dictate that any movie with almost $500 million in worldwide grosses (plus whatever ridiculous earnings were made on the DVD) needs a sequel. It has to happen because there's too much money to be made for all parties involved.
If only The Hangover Part II wasn't so transparent about that fact.
There's no reason to go over the plot for this one: The Hangover Part II is exactly the same as The Hangover — the same beats happen in the same places — except it's more lurid. It's also safer, and completely free of stakes. And that's why it fails on nearly every level.
Nearly, because you will likely laugh during The Hangover Part II. It's funny, and the annoyingly dubbed "Wolf Pack" (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) make beautiful comedy together. They're a weird mix, yet the chemistry between them is off the charts. Galifianakis, in particular, is a riot in The Hangover Part II — something made all the more impressive because you get the feeling (through his many interviews) that participating in this blatant money grab by Warner Bros. and Todd Phillips was the last thing he wanted to do. Instead of sleepwalking, however, he steps up and steals the film again, all with a similar-but-different-enough performance.
What frustrates about The Hangover Part II is that it didn't have to be exactly the same. The first 20 minutes are the best of the film, and bring some different elements to the table, while staying within The Hangover structure. Stu (Helms) is getting married in Thailand, and he's asked to invite Alan (Galifianakis) despite the fact that he hates him for the whole roofie thing in the first film. (Stu also doesn't want a bachelor party, for obvious reasons.) Alan, meanwhile, has been living through that weekend for the last two years, going so far as to blow up the still pictures that ran over the closing credits to poster size for his room. (Later he calls himself a "stay-at-home son"; LOLz).
The set-up is there for something similar-but-not; unfortunately Phillips doesn't bother with trying something different structurally. You can't blame him, really. The money is there no matter what he puts on the screen, so why not just do the same crap over again? As such: Alan roofies everyone again and the lost evening features many ridiculously over-the-top revelations.
Yet that's where things go wrong. Bigger isn't better in this case, and that's where Phillips seems to have missed the point of the original film. There were stakes in that one, but with somewhat believable consequences. Here, crazy stuff happens, and is almost immediately forgotten about.
Spoilers, but who cares: Stu has a face tattoo! (And no one cares after it gets the initial reveal.) Phil gets shot! (And no one cares one scene later.) Stu cheats on his fiance, opening himself to numerous possible sexually transmitted diseases! (And it never gets mentioned again.) Teddy (Stu's future brother-in-law who goes missing) is adept at playing the cello and a future surgeon, yet after he gets his finger cut off, no one cares.
Phillips seems to think that audiences will go with this because it's funny. It's an epic miscalculation, one made worse by what he does to the characters. Phil and Stu, the everyman entry points of the first film, turn into hateful idiots here. They're the ugly Americans, totally clueless to normal human behavior. In the first film, they were normal humans who had a night get away from them. That Phillips doesn't seem to understand this distinction is an indictment on his work in The Hangover — perhaps he didn't have as much to do with its success as initially thought. (He wrote the script here; he didn't write the script for part one, but did much work on it with his cast during pre-production.)
Which is a shame, because it's given some film critics license to say "I told you so!" Those critics are mostly petty — they didn't like being wrong about The Hangover — but such is life when a second-rate sequel gets released. It opens up space for petty people to retroactively attack the beloved first film, while also sullying its memory.
Don't let it. The Hangover is still an amazing comedy; The Hangover Part II is the opposite, the type of film made by — and for — accountants. To paraphrase Robert Towne: Forget it, Jake. It's Hollywood.