Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II

Hungover, Dehydrated and Drowsy

      It was the best of Zach Galifianakis. It was the worst of Zach Galifianakis. The Hangover Part II is a bigger, a badder, but not a better amnesiac-ridden remake of the Wolfpack's virgin descent into infinite debauchery. 
      Before doing my best cigarette-smoking monkey impersonation and jumping on The Hangover Part II hate bandwagon, I want to address an insightful article in last week's NY Times. Adam Sternbergh's partially entitled piece, sarcastically enough, "Jokeless Comedy" intimates something very germane to the modern evolution of comedy: a new brand of comedies have been dominating the film medium. Dare you ask: how does Hangover II fit within this new framework? Well Mr. Sternbergh contends, "It represents the logical evolution of a roughly five-year trend: someone has finally dared to make a mainstream American comedy in which nothing funny happens." Yeah, I'm thinking exactly what you're thinking...what's worse: an actual hangover or a shot-for-shot, drink-for-drink, vomit-for-vomit remake of one? 
       Sternbergh writes, "The Hangover Part II is like a Saw-style torture-porn movie with a laugh track." If this incendiary comparison is not damning enough, Sternbergh goes on to argue that Todd Phillips (director of both Hangovers) & Judd Apatow (the Godfather of modern comedic influence) "have systematically boiled away many of the pleasures previously associated with comedy—first among these, jokes themselves—and replaced them with a different kind of lure: the appeal of spending two hours hanging out with a loose and jocular gang of goofy bros." Ouch, the infamous "bromance" theory. Furthermore, Sternbergh reveals a distinction between the two chief classes of comedy: "character-driven," which he describes as funny people doing funny things in funny situations (within a "plausibly" realistic environment) or "joke-driven," which he defines as "bursting the boundaries of realism." According to Sternbergh—and yes, I'm inclined to agree with him—Apatow and Phillips, who once spearheaded a newer, fresher comedic revolution, have now morphed into figureheads of a stale, tasteless, and derivatively "jokeless" phenomenon. 
      The Hangover Part II, in terms of creativity, is the coup de grâce. It is symptomatic of Sternbergh's scathing, but shrewd reproach of contemporary comedy, particular its five-year ascendancy. Phillips' movie strives to be a "character-driven" romp, but ultimately, it suffers from the "boundary-bursting" shortcomings consistent with "joke-driven" comedies. Consequently, H2 blurs the lines between plausible realism and overt humor. And Mr. Phillips carelessly massages these perfunctory elements to levels of shear absurdity. The spastic, helter-skelter pacing does not lend itself to a harmonic marriage. Instead, Hangover's condemned younger brother denounces hordes of giddy moviegoers—the ones (like me) anticipating laughter and legitimacy—at the proverbial altar.  

      There's no question that The Hangover Part II has enjoyed immense box office success and overwhelmingly positive "audience" (not "critical") appeal. Shattering numerous records, Phillips' sequel grossed $118.1 million in its first four days fueling the best Memorial Day weekend in domestic box office history, and the biggest opening ever for a live-action comedy. That's praiseworthy...But not profound. If only moviegoers box office attendance determined which movies represent the best of the business, then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (also a sequel) would've been an Oscar contender. And that's just one recent example. Critics unabashedly and uniformly dismissed The Hangover reunion. Why is there such a polarizing disconnect? And why did it do so damn well? 
      Well, the three primary reasons explaining The Hangover Part II's enormous success has little to do with cinematic excellence. First, the robust marketing behind the notorious Wolfpack's chaotic return to mischief and misadventure, gave the film a raunchier, balls-to-the-wall, human growth hormone-injecting, steroid-inducing facelift (peep the poster). Younger moviegoers appreciate this no-holds barred approach. Secondly, the Dude, Where's My Car?, Vegas-style Hangover trio have unique flavors of widespread audience appeal, and they're on the cusp of stardom. Cooper is the rising movie star, Helms is the quirky supporting actor from a popular TV show and Galifianakis is the cult comedian. It's a perfect multi-demographic smorgasbord. And the final reason for its unprecedented success ties into its first reason: H2 marketed itself as being less of a movie than an event. In other words, it's the perfect film for group watching. It's a fraternity party at the movie theater. Fact: 54% of the audience consisted of younger moviegoers. All of these reasons attribute to The Hangover Part Deux's titanic opening weekend, but neither reason alludes to any kind of cinematic brilliance. No one's mistaking Phillips for Kubrick or Malick. Therefore, I will properly guide the remainder of my review based on a coalescence of these two central facets: box office success and critical appeal.

      One would be best suited to review The Hangover Part II in the midst of one's own hangover. It's not impartial, but it's illuminating. The intermittent and dilapidated feelings of nausea, dehydration and drowsiness that accompany one's hangover properly crystallize the very soul of the actual movie. Undoubtedly, a casualty of sequel-itis syndrome, I can see—almost hear—the sluggish markings of a Hollywood driven, surefire box office remake: unoriginal gears churning, buckling and grinding. It all sounds like a lazy, connect-the-dots production, reminiscent of the feelings resulting from a real life blackout. Every time after blacking out (I have a friend who blackouts twice a month), it's always the same feeling waking up: "What the fu** happened!" And, pretty much, the rest of the day is spent nursing a terrible hangover, slowly piecing together the events of the past night. So, in this respect, Phillips & Co. got it right. They created the cinematic equivalent of a blackout. They made the exact same movie as the first with the exact same story beats, in the exact same order; just reworked it to fit Thigh-land. They even used the same musicians (redact that statement; Kanye is no "musician") in the same moment within the film; just using a different track. In other words, if you've seen The Hangover, then you've seen The Hangover Part II. One critic even joked that the script was written entirely with the "find/replace" function of Final Draft. 
      Essentially, this is what happens in The Hangover Part II. It's my loose recreation of the story based on a re-enactment of The Hangover: (Spoilers Ahead)
  • Baby = Monkey
  • Roof = Elevator
  • Cue Kanye West Song = Cue Other Kanye West Song
  • Ken Jeong = Ken Jeong
  • Marry A Prostitute = Sleep With A Transvestite Prostitute
  • Being Tasered By Cops/Schoolchildren = Being Beaten By Monks
  • Lose A Tooth = Gain A Face Tattoo
  • Exchange For Black Doug = Exchange For Old Monk Teddy
  • So On And So Forth ...
      While The Hangover Part Deux has some hilariously bawdy gags, manic energy and some uproarious physical exchanges, it lacks the key element of its parent film: surprise. Because of an inexcusable lack of tension, The Hangover Part II is about as enjoyable as a two-hour root canal administered by Stu; after being punched in the nuts by Alan and beaten in the face by Phil. Not exciting; even if your name's Mike Tyson. 
      I was a big fan of The Hangover, but I've had actual hangovers I've enjoyed more than The Hangover Part II. Much has been said about the infantile script, the darker story and the overt plagiarism, but such criticism overlooks one key difference between the original and the sequel: the first one was consistently funny. What made The Hangover so unique was that it served not only as gross-out comedy, but as well conceived mystery: you nervously anticipated plot points almost as much as you laughed. The mystery of the missing groom—a brilliant McGuffin—added weight to every delirious, half-witted Wolfpack action. But by duplicating the original film beat for beat, Phillips & Co. strip the film of that vital element. 
      Let me address one appropriate objection. Fans of the first Hangover only care about seeing their three favorite stooges in another wacky adventure regardless of style, substance or story. The sequel doesn't have to reinvent "jokeless comedy" or slapstick humor. If you have to shoehorn the premise to satisfy the diehard Hangover-ers, so be it. Well, I do believe in re-cycling: cans, bottles, etc. But movies: no way. If I'm looking for a cheap rip-off, I know where to find the flea market. And at a cheap flea market, ten dollars will get me a lot more than just a movie.
       Some of the actual positives from H2 stem from the serviceable acting performances. Ed Helms is the star of the show and he's terrific. Bradley Cooper as Bradley Cooper is...well, he's never going to earn an easier paycheck in his life and I'm cool with it because I'm cool with Cooper. Zach Galifianakis is absurdly strange (his gimmick is running stale) and Justin Bartha is, for the second straight outing, deemed replaceable. Ken Jeong is devilishly deviant. His enraged, effeminate persona devolves into an annoying state of abrasiveness. But his shtick did generate some of the strongest laugh-out-loud moments at my theater showing. And, above all else, I still had a relatively fun time watching the familiar proceedings. For that reason alone, I can't completely eviscerate H2. It may hail from an uninspired, unoriginal premise, but there's still shameless enjoyment to be had. Ultimately, fleeting moments of enjoyment do not compensate for lingering moments of laziness.

      Good movies must strike a balance between enjoyment and execution or be wholly successful in either spectrum (awesomely enjoyable or technically pristine). Hangover II doesn't fit in either category. There was a freshness and sincerity in the first Hangover. In Part II, all that freshness and sincerity mutates into predictability and insincerity. The lack of inventiveness or originality in H2 has me believing that comedy and sequels simply do not mingle. What makes comedy effective is the sensory pleasure resulting from an involuntary reaction. Sequels are, almost exclusively, voluntary in practice. Thus, the lack of surprise leads to diminishing returns, which strips the audience of a fundamental curiosity. Anticipation breeds awareness; when one is seeking involuntary reactions, awareness is anathema. The Hangover was a mammoth hit because of its tight cast and clever mise en scène. There were genuine surprises and an awesome payoff. The Hangover Part II has no surprises and minimal ingenuity. Consequently, the Wolfpack's rendezvous is a lifeless carbon copy.
      Todd Phillips is an able director. I like him. He thrives in mainstream comedy and has a talent for visual scope. The dangerous, seedy layers of Bangkok and Thailand fall strikingly within his wheelhouse. And his handling of the cast is strong. But that's where the praise ends. If you've watched the original countless times, then you'll probably dig the remake-sequel. But if your enjoyment of the first movie hinged upon any connectedness to the story, then you'll be desperately yearning for more. Yes, there were moments of shear reckless hilarity. I saw it with two of my good friends and we were laughing our asses off throughout (but by "throughout," I mean very short and infrequent intervals). There's no surprise, no suspense and quite plainly, no pretension of uniqueness. It's a moribund adaptation of the first film with zero improvement. Still, The Hangover Part II has generated enough box office might to justify a third installment. Hopefully, the third time's a charm. Cue Kanye West song: "Diamonds From Sierra Leone."

5 out of 10

*The Hangover Part II Official Trailer.


  1. I must say - I laughed a lot at the Hangover II. I went to a midnight showing after drinking a fair amount in the Southern heat, which might be a factor. But it was better than I was expecting.

    I thought the first was hilarious - when I saw it in theaters. Seeing it a time or two after that just wasn't as funny. So I almost think the whole thing is like a Chuck Palahniuk book - you can read it once and it's great, but then the shock value (or humor, in this case) is spoiled.

  2. I have heard a lot of people say it was a big disappointment. I didn't enjoy the first one very much so I don't plan to see this one. Especially if it is the same story redone.

  3. This is a movie one must see high and or drunk as I did the first one. It should be rated SWI See While intoxicated. Ken Jeong is effing cool as Mr. Chow and I loved him. Zach, too. Cooper, not so much.

    I have a very short list of those comedies I have laughed my ass off at while being of sound mind and body. Stripes, Caddyshack, The Big Lebowski, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, There's Something About Mary, American Pie and Zombieland. Easy A came close. I do want to see Bridemaids and Bad Teacher. Both had me unexpectedly cracking up in the trailer, which bodes well for the experience.

    I commend you on your very thorough and honest review. Have they gone to the well once too many times, probably. I'll see this, but with friends in a party atmosphere. I will not pay good money. I didn't the first time around.

  4. What's missing is a huge part of what made the first film so good: the element of surprise and the actual joy of having all these crazy situations happen. This is a It's a dark and morbid cash-in and nothing more, except with some chuckles. Good review, check out mine when you can!

  5. This is clearly following the Die Hard approach to sequels ("I can't believe this shit is happening again!"), which is just a money making exercise. I don't think the first one was very good so they were never going to make this one 'better'.

    If only they'd kept Mel Gibson in it...

    Moody Writing

  6. must admit I haven't even seen the first part :) I never really understood the appeal of such comedies. But I do like Bradley Cooper.

  7. I hated the first movie. I found it dated, unoriginal and poorly-executed. I wish I could agree with you about Todd Phillips, but.... I HATE him. His visual style makes me wanna throw up, and it hurts my eyes. I disliked every single one of his films, and I'm sure Part 2 will be no exception.

    My odium aside, I loved your review - it's very insightful, honest and accurate. Great job! :)

  8. thank you
    now i have several more reasons not to see it
    makes me worry about our future with so many wasting so much money on this kind of stuff
    have a nice weekend!

  9. @ allison

    I had a mildly (stress mildly) fun time watching this movie, but the sporadic bouts of fun were drastically drained out by the more frequent stretches of screeching unoriginality; uninspired, faithfully redundant plot points/jokes, etc. If I were heavily drunk, I still probably dislike this movie. Though, I'd probably laugh a few more times. And I really enjoyed the first Hangover.

    @ Ruth

    I dug the first Dougless free Hangover, but this sequel doesn't even deserve the title sequel. It was an absolute, inexcusable remake, note for note. You have the right mindset. If you didn't enjoy the first, you'll deeply dislike the second.

  10. @ Melissa

    Haha! Great comedies do not require substance abuse. And hooray! Those are some terrific comedies you've just named. I completely agree with your observation. Each one you listed can be enjoyed under a Zen like temperament, especially The Big Lebowski!

    And thank you! This movie frustrated me beyond belief because I really enjoyed the first. I watched it with the right atmosphere and mind set, but I was still overwhelmingly disappointed. Save your money until it makes its Netflix debut.

    @ Dan O.

    Exactly. No surprise equals no suspense. The first one had suspense in spades. The second. Well, we know what no suspense does for this kind of movie. Terrible.

    I'll check out your review. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. @ mooderino

    Haha, the "Die Hard approach," lol. I actually really enjoyed Die Hard 3 and 4 was not too bad (the second, however, was godawful).

    Mel Gibson's inclusion would've benefited it for about five minutes. But the entirety of the film would still be grossly underwhelming. It's a prime example of a cheap imitation.

    @ Dezmond

    The first was really enjoyable Dezz. Yes, I like Cooper too. I understand why he turns people off. But I find him to be charming, interesting and, above all else, entertaining. In my book (not that it matters), he's a movie star.

  12. @ Nebular

    I disagree, buddy. I thought the first was original and vastly entertaining. It was a fresh slice of comedy; something that Hollywood infrequently churns out to any great effect. It was a welcome surprise. The second; however, was complete garbage. Since you didn't like the first, you'll detest the second. You've been forewarned.

    I like Todd Phillips because I like Old School and The Hangover. And he went to NYU. But if he churns out another Hangover Part II-like debacle, he may lose me forever.

    And thanks for the complements! Always appreciated.

    @ Tara

    Haha, you're welcome. That's what I try to do. Yes, this movie made a staggering amount of money in its first five days, and surprise, surprise, general moviegoers actually enjoyed it. But, I'm assuming, just seeing the three stooges back in action was enough to excite most of the Hangover II crowd. And many, I'm presuming, were under the influence.

  13. When I heard of a sequel I hoped they would present something new, original, and different. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it just a shame to hear that they've gone with the same basic plot again.

  14. Jaccs, I shared the same hopes. Sadly, our hopes were immaterial to what the movie ultimately became. It was a terrible disappointment.

  15. I enjoyed the first Hangover; but I always feel that the next one in a series always sucks before they pull up their socks. And some stories don't need any retelling!! Most of the reviews have been bad so I will happily skip this one. Enjoy your week ahead. :)

  16. Ah yes, some stories need no "retelling." Generally, the first sequel pales in comparison to the original film, particularly if the original was a hit. Of course, there are notable exceptions to this rule. The Hangover Part II does not succeed as a sequel (the box office suggest otherwise, but who cares unless you're one of the people pocketing the money).

    I second your desire to skip it. It's a smart move without any short term side effects. And thank you! Enjoy your week as well!