Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: "The Hangover Part II"

It opens with an exasperated phone call. An exhausted and grimy-looking man named Phil (Bradley Cooper), contacts the bride of his friend Doug (Justin Bartha), to let her know that things have gone horribly wrong. The many who have seen 2009's The Hangover know this as the opening scene. The many who have yet to see the sequel likely don't know that I've also just described the opening of Part II.

For better or for worse, Todd Phillips' sequel to his '09 blockbuster could almost pass as a remake, considering how similar it is. Just as Baz Lurhmann relocated Romeo and Juliet to California, Phillips has relocated The Hangover to Bangkok, only with the same actors, and only 2 years later. The result is not necessarily a cash-grab. It has funny moments amidst the carbon-copy set-up and structure. It just makes you wonder why they bothered to essentially make the same movie over again, only with minor differences and set in an even seedier locale.

Not that there aren't some minor changes in the details. This time Stu (Ed Helms) is the one getting married, and the missing person isn't Doug, but the 16-year-old brother of the bride-to-be (Mason Lee). Come to think of it, Mr. Bartha's presence in the movie feels almost unnecessary, as he's not among those suffering from a disastrous hangover. The character who was once the object of a frenzied search has been relegated to the role played by his wife, receiving calls and asking "what happened?" Meanwhile, the original wolf pack of Phil, Stu, and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) goes through roughly the same routine as last time. They wake up disoriented, in a trashed room (although the inherently crappier room lessens the effect of any damage the characters caused). Instead of a missing tooth, Stu now has a tattoo which he doesn't remember getting, Alan's head is shaved, there's a vest-wearing monkey hanging around, and there's a finger in a bowl of melted ice. Phil just looks worn out, which I'm assuming is part of Cooper's secret contract wherein it states that he must always look attractive on screen.

As the trio traverse Bangkok and begin piecing another wild and crazy night back together, the film's reliance on formula rears its ugly head. It doesn't sink the film, but it robs it of the pseudo-mystery fun of the first. We now know to expect insane, outrageous happenings. So while some of the surprises may top the original in shock-value, the overall impact is muted. Still, the character interactions do produce some funny moments. Galifianakis' oddball antics generally prove to be a highlight, while Helms' freak-outs are perfectly pitched moments of exasperated hysteria ("All I wanted was a bachelor brunch!!!"). There's also Ken Jeong, reprising his role as the gangster Chow, earning solid laughs throughout. Cooper is generally there to be pissed off, rarely given anything actually funny to say or do. As far as "straight men" characters go, there's little that's interesting to him, especially considering what a sleazy jerk he can be. It's the sort of role that I suppose formula demands, but here in particular, it feels noticeable that most of what Cooper says is usually vulgar, without inspiring many laughs (not so for his co-stars).

General reaction to The Hangover Part II has been negative, and in some ways it's easy to see why. Phillips and co. have essentially remade the first movie, only without having to establish as many characters. Taken on its own, Part II probably seems much funnier. Under the shadow of the original, however, it's all a little too familiar, even though it's often amusing and occasionally hilarious. The decision to repeat the formula of the first film does not wreck this sequel. It merely renders its goal - to be a shock and awe campaign of what-just-happened comedy - somewhat diluted.

Grade: C+

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