Friday, June 03, 2011

674 - The Hangover Part II review



“The Wolfpack is Back,” said some of the ads for “The Hangover Part II,” and indeed they are, though it’s the fans that will be the most disappointed. The first installment was a runaway success, the rare comedy not produced by Judd Apatow that saw enormous box office success, driven by great comic performances and a wild plot that often resembled a mystery more than a comedy. But those fans who memorized the dialogue and bought the merchandise aren’t getting so much a new movie as a location transplant, infused with an uneasy insidiousness to the humor. Others might just be appalled.

The plot follows that of its predecessor so closely that those with ticket stubs to the last film should be able to present it at the ticket counter for a discount. Director Todd Phillips (who also wrote the script with two others) demonstrates surprisingly little confidence in his characters, replicating familiar circumstances, only transplanting the action from Las Vegas to Bangkok.

There are laughs to be had, though fewer than in the original and usually still along well-traveled lines. But with the retread comes an upping of the intensity of the jokes, usually to a nauseating extent. Much of the original’s wit is traded for its lamer cousin, shock.

Here’s an example, worded carefully for a family newspaper: Stu (Ed Helms), a day away from getting married, discovers that during his bachelor party blackout, he had relations with a transvestite prostitute. Really, he did, there’s photos to prove it. He’s suitably horrified for about ten seconds, his friends laugh at his expense, and then the adventures resume.

Now, if you were one of Stu’s compatriots, would that really be so funny, especially at the time? Are we as moral creatures comfortable with giggling at unconsensual sex, occurring to an otherwise pleasant and well-meaning individual? Are we comfortable with the idea of being comfortable with it, and that a smash hit film features such a thing so casually? This is the same picture that saw Mel Gibson denied a cameo on moral grounds?

It’s this aggressive cruelty that makes a picture like “The Hangover Part II” so difficult to swallow, whereas otherwise we’re just left with a benign rehashing of a successful formula. What made the first so successful as a film was its characters and the way the story actually lent them a great deal of development. Stu learned how to stand up for himself, Phil (Bradley Cooper) got to appreciate his bland home life, and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) was able to fit in with the guys. The Vegas nightmare proved somewhat therapeutic for the group, but Bangkok provides no similar release. The Wolfpack shows up, they paint the town red, then pay the price for it.

Here, nothing’s learned that they didn’t know before. It would have been nice to see Phillips and Co. go farther with these characters, to examine them under stress but force them to continue to grow rather than purely react. Instead, come out with exactly what we came in, only rubbed raw by the relentless nastiness. And still not a word about the series’ true mystery: why would one who looks like Bradley Cooper hang out with a group of men that don’t?

2 out of 5

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