25 May 2011

Movie Review: The Hangover: Part II


B-

The Hangover: Part II
2011, 102mins, 15
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer (s): Scot Armstrong, Craig Mazin, Todd Phillips
Cast includes: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha
UK Release Date: 26th May 2011

"The Hangover" was a phenomenally funny film and a surprising box-office success back in 2009. Mixing an adept cast with a strikingly inventive storytelling method, the movie hit a chord with modern audiences; viewers clearly excited by the promise of a bawdy American comedy doing something fresh. However that clearly isn’t the message director Todd Phillips took away from his runaway hit. “The Hangover: Part II” feels more like a remake than a sequel, the filmmakers hitting the same beats, obviously fearful that new innovations might cause fans to run for the hills. The picture boasts several moments of genuine hilarity and a much grimier tone than the initial product, but the lack of creativity applied to the plotline is borderline offensive.

With Stu (Ed Helms) about to wed Lauren (Jamie Chung), Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and eccentric Alan (Zach Galifianakis) fly out for the ceremony in Thailand. In order to avoid a repeat of their escapade in Vegas, they opt for a quiet pre-wedding drink, sipping beers and toasting marshmallows on the beach. Cut to the next morning. Phil, Stu and Alan find themselves in a skuzzy Bangkok hotel, with no memory of the night before. Lauren’s little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) is missing, whilst flamboyant face of the past Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is drugged out on the floor. Rallying themselves to track down the missing teen, the boys meet a variety of bizarre and seedy individuals, their antics from the evening before finally coming to light.

“The Hangover: Part II” is a reasonably funny feature, but it lacks the spark and imagination that rendered its 2009 sibling so memorable. The picture is happy to simply rehash the same plot points and comedic grooves, generally relying on Galifianakis’s childish nature, gross bodily harm and ill judged drunken dalliances to score the majority of its laughs. The Bangkok setting provides the picture with a grittier aesthetic (although I felt the original boasted a pretty good line in dried out landscapes), but it doesn’t excuse the frustrating similarities that bond these movies so tightly. Phillips even takes the desperate phone exchange which bookended the first production and replays it without alteration. That sort of laziness just won’t do.

What works about “The Hangover: Part II” is the cast, who bring true exuberance and comic dexterity to the movie. Galifianakis is on fine form (after his slightly stale turn in “Due Date”), powering the film forward with his juvenile ramblings, and keeping several weaker sequences afloat through sheer force of will. Once again he steals the film, even though co-stars Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms also deliver when it matters. As a trio they retain strong chemistry, although unlike last time “The Hangover: Part II” seems more focused on Stu than the other participants. Phillips seems particularly fascinated by Stu’s dark side, the usually mild dentist once again unleashing a torrent of bad decisions when subjected to intoxicating substances. This I suppose is sort of rewarding, there’s a certain enjoyment to be garnered from watching Helms recount his horrific sins, mere hours before marrying his angel of a fiancĂ©e. Ken Jeong pulls out the same old camp routine, although the filmmakers wisely dilute his contribution, allowing the brash comic to delight in small doses, nudging him out of frame just as his high-pitched tones threaten to become irksome.

There’s a heightened sense of dirtiness to proceedings, “The Hangover: Part II” doing Bangkok no services with its dreary and morally decayed interpretation of the city. Unlike most directors of his ilk, Phillips actually cares about how his movies look, ensuring “The Hangover: Part II” benefits from the same stylish cinematography as the rest of his back catalogue. He creates an effective atmosphere here, a squalid and believable insight into the more indecent recesses of Bangkok. This is just one example of “The Hangover: Part II” trying to actively one-up the previous adventure, the godforsaken streets of Bangkok making Vegas look like an airy picnic. Other instances of blatant showboating include a drug dealing monkey (as opposed to the bathroom dwelling tiger) and a selection of indigenous hookers packing something extra (instead of Heather Graham).

If you’ve seen “The Hangover” you’ll be familiar with the story structure evidenced here, the writers tweaking the material only slightly in order to accommodate the alternative setting. The rambunctious set pieces and Galifianakis’s weirdo brilliance render it agreeable, but the lack of ambition means it never gets close to touching the 2009 classic. It’s adequate summer entertainment, but this is surely the last time these characters and this formula can be utilized without concocting something truly feeble.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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