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TBTS Reviews: The Hangover Part II

May 31, 2011

There is a weird feeling one gets — at least I did — when watching The Hangover Part II; it’s tough, as one watches the exceedingly familiar proceedings, to not ask the simple question “Why did any of these people agree to make this movie?”

The Hangover Part II has to be, I assume, a tremendous testimonial to the power of the almighty Hollywood Box Office Dollar. Back are the trio from the original: smarmy but sensible Phil (Bradley Cooper), practical square Stu (Ed Helms) and eccentric weirdo Alan (Zack Galifianakis) –only this time the setting moves from Las Vegas to Bangkok, Thailand, where Stu is preparing to get married. Of course, in the hours prior to the wedding, the three make the mistake of once again partying a little too hard and have to retrace the steps of their evening, this time in order to find Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy, a sixteen year-old med school and cello-playing genius who’s disappeared.

I won’t ruin any of the set pieces, since the unraveling of the mystery is all part of the fun, but I a smoking monkey, a transsexual prostitute and a Buddhist monk all figure prominently into the plot as the three piece together the fractured events of their evening. Ken Jeong is back as the scenery-chewing criminal Mr. Chow, and Paul Giamatti clearly has a blast in his bit role as a rival gangster. As Stu, Phil and Alan maneuver the crowded streets and dingy back alleys of Bangkok, however, The Hangover Part II exists as a near carbon copy of the original, in some ways which make the film feel incredibly forced and mailed-in. When Ed Helms is suddenly singing an impromptu song about their exploits, it’s not as much funny as just ridiculous. When Helms sings his off-the-cuff tune in the original Hangover, it’s organic because the three are at the end of their ropes and sitting around a hotel suite waiting; when he sings it here it just seems like he’s doing it because that’s what he did the first time.

This latter sentiment permeates The Hangover Part II almost too much to completely allow one’s self to enjoy the film. You never feel like you’re watching anything new or interesting — it all just feels like a cash grab, as if to say “did you like the first film? Here, we made it again for you!” This is why it’s exceedingly puzzling that Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis all agreed to it; it’s so unoriginal that the money dangled in front of the guys must have been impossible to ignore. I have a hunch that these three all are smart enough to know what they were doing, which is why it’s somewhat disappointing to see they did it. The plot and scenes are so template that it’s it’s simultaneously hard to believe anyone didn’t see the snowjob and depressing to believe that everyone actually did.

On top of this, there’s a fundamentally darker conceit to The Hangover Part II; in the first film, the city of Las Vegas was a fourth character — we knew the guys would find their missing buddy and that everything would turn out just fine. There’s trouble to be had in Vegas, for sure, but rarely does it end in actual death or dismemberment. But Bangkok’s a real-life dangerous place, and that lends a weird tint to things. The sequel’s missing character is a sixteen year-old boy, a child, whose severed finger they find first thing upon waking up the next morning. That situation’s got a lot of gravity, I think you’d agree, especially since Helms’ character is preparing to wed into the family, and we know from the offset that even if they do find Teddy alive, he’s at least lacking one finger (which must be career-ending for both a cello player and a surgeon-to-be).  That’s pretty heavy, and it detracts from the freewheeling vibe of the first film.

All of this isn’t to say that The Hangover Part II doesn’t have it’s moments of fun or its great lines, it’s just…weird. It’s hard to jump into this sequel fully because it feels like such a darkened copy of the original. It made a mint on opening weekend but that number will probably drop as word-of-mouth spreads; the audience I saw the film with didn’t laugh much at all. I find it hard to believe that a Hangover Part III will get made, but if The Hangover Part II is any indication, it doesn’t take much more than a giant cartoon bag with a dollar sign on it to get this bunch to do what the studio wants. I wish the best for Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis– they’re all extremely talented and very likeable — but this wasn’t the best idea. Oh well.

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