A film review by Craig J. Koban July 22, 2011


2011, R, 101 mins.


Phil: Bradley Cooper / Stu: Ed Helms / Alan: Zach Galifianakis / Doug: Justin Bartha / Mr. Chow: Ken Jeong / Kingsley: Paul Giamatti / Mike Tyson: Himself / Sid Garner: Jeffrey Tambor

Directed by Todd Phillips / Written by Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong

Considering the massive box office might – and surprisingly strong critical response – to Todd Phillips’ THE HANGOVER a sequel felt more than obligatory at some point.  What made the first film such an appealingly bawdy, crass, and go-for-broke comedy smash was not its premise, which was far from original (a bachelor party from hell goes horribly afoul in Vegas…oh, how novel!), but rather the momentum it built in its story. The film was funny, but not for the party itself (which you never saw): Instead, the amusement came from its offbeat characters trying to piece all of the post-night-out clues together to discover what really happened during their drunken evening of debauchery.  

THE HANGOVER: PART II shares much of its prequel’s oftentimes-startling crudeness and appallingly funny lack of decorum.  However, being unfunny is not PART II’s main dilemma, though; what it does lack is any semblance of originality and freshness that made the original such a breakout sensation.  Great sequels take characters and storylines and revisit them in revitalizing ways, but HANGOVER II seems to fail even at that simple goal.  In short, the sequel kind of lazily takes the basic screenplay from the first and makes a carbon copy of it, only this time substituting Vegas for Bangkok.  At least PART II has Ed Helm’s Stu commenting on the film’s lack of originality and innovation by feebly stating at one point, “I can’t believe this is happening again.”  

At times, I could not believe it either. 

Calling HANGOVER II a reboot more than a sequel would not be altogether incorrect: Phillips and his screenwriting team of Craig Mazin and Scott Armstrong do very little beyond recycling key moments and, at some points, even direct scenes from the first entry, and this has the negating side effect of making the entire enterprise feel lacking in any sense of discovery.  There is not much of an element of surprise or anticipation of what happens in HANGOVER II, and even though, yes, I did heartily laugh through key moments in the film, I nonetheless left the theatre pondering why the film was necessary in the first place, outside of obvious financial gain, to be sure. 

The story has stock elements ripped right from the first: the engagement of one of the male characters, the opening scene of a call to the bride-to-be that flashbacks to the wedding plans and the ceremony itself, which is later followed by the bachelor party that escalates beyond what it should have and then…well…you can fill in the rest (symptoms of an awesomely lewd night are strung through the room, which leaves the bewildered and deeply hung over characters wondering what the hell happened).  Cue the second act of the characters discovering what happened and later cue the conclusion where everything is neatly tied up.  The end. 

Still, “The Wolfpack” remains a hilariously hapless trio, comprised of Helm’s Stu, Phil (Bradley Cooper), and the self-described "stay-at-home" mentally challenged and frequently deranged man-child, Alan (Zach Galifianakis, who was the breakout comic performer from the first and more than duplicates Alan’s seriously unstable mindset here yet again).  Two years have passed since Vegas and Stu has gotten everyone of his buds back together to join him in celebrating his future nuptials to his new fiancé, Lauren (Jamie Chung), which will be occurring in Thailand.   



Stu invites Phil and the married man from the last film, Doug (Justin Bartha, here peculiarly reduced to more of a cameo) and has no ambitions to invite the socially rickety Alan, but Doug pleads with Stu to so so and he eventually – and begrudgingly – agrees to allow Alan to fly over to Thailand to partake in the festivities.  Now, When all of them are gathered, Stu wisely remembers what happened during Doug’s bachelor party and opts for not repeating the past, but this is hardly the least of Stu’s worries.  His future father-in-law hates him so much that he humiliatingly compares him to rice porridge at the engagement party and his brother-in-law-to-be, Teddy (Mason Lee), does not meet with Andy’s approval at all.  Needless to say, Stu, Teddy, and the rest of The Wolfpack sit comfortably one night at a gorgeously picturesque Thai beach roasting marshmallows and having a few social drinks.  The next thing we know Phil, Stu, and Alan – just like before – are awake after what appears to be an all-nighter to end all-nighters, but this time they awaken in a seedy Bangkok hotel.  Stu has a new facial tattoo while Alan…has no hair. 

I will say this about the unfathomably $80 million budgeted film: its free-wheeling attempts to throw curveballs at the audience and sucker punch them with all-out, shameful smuttiness has no bounds, which gives the film a sense of perverse energy.  The random chaos of Bangkok cannot match what Vegas was in the first film, but the humanity-clogged and smoke-drenched streets of the Thai metropolis and its untamed, backstreet sleaziness lend a new level of moral decay to The Wolfpack’s horrible dilemmas.  Aside from frequent and ill-timed power outages (a common occurrence in the city), the boys have to deal with, in no particular order, severed fingers, a cocaine-death-inflicted drug kingpin, an elderly wheelchair-bound Buddhist monk, scummy tattoo artists, transgender strippers, Russian and American mobsters, Interpol agents, and, my personal favourite, a penis-biting and licking drug-dealing monkey wearing a Rolling Stones vest that has an unhealthy simian appetite for tobacco.  As for the creature’s penchant for felacio, Alan hysterical deadpans at one point, “When monkey nibbles on a penis it’s funny in any language.”  He just may be right. 

Galifianakis’ Alan, as expected, nearly single-handedly steals the show again: he occupies perhaps the most amusing scene when his innocently intentioned toast at Stu’s engagement party sinks to lows even he cannot possible understand.  I especially like how Galifianakis never once plays Alan up for any potential moment of redemption at any time: he starts and ends the film as a hopeless societal outcast.  I also liked Ken Jeong returning to reprise his much larger role of Mr. Chow, the broken English, gansta-talking, cocaine addicted mobster that lives life unhealthily to its fullest (even though Chow is a crude caricature, Jeong at least acknowledges that in his performance).  And, of course, the film culminates with an end-credits reflection by the boys on a series of ill-advised cell-phone camera shots of them engaging in behavior most foul.  This montage, like the one present in the first film, is the comic highlight of PART II. 

Again, this much-anticipated sequel is more than adept at being a raunchier and more nastily morose dive into the pit of despair for The Wolfpack than its predecessor, and it certainly succeeds at being a salacious romp of moral and social extremes (how the film escaped without an NC-17 is befuddling, to say the least).  However, was it too much to ask Phillips and company to perhaps escalate their game plan a bit by not just riffing off of the scatological extremes of the initial film?  THE HANGOVER: PART II should have been called THE HANGOVER: REDUX; it’s a pale mirror image of its much more exciting and appealing forerunner and, to be fair, it feels less like a daring and headstrong original for the comedy genre and more like another in a long line of lame and unnecessary sequels that are required based solely on potential box office appeal.  The settings of Bangkok are a somewhat invigorating change of ambience, but that alone can’t override a script that’s on pure, routine autopilot.   

There is one last minor sin that the film commits: It has a scene – mercifully brief – that has Mike Tyson returning to play himself – friend of The Wolfpack – pathetically covering the 1984 Murray Head tune ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK.  In short: the most ear-splittingly bad cover…ever.

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