THE HANGOVER PART II - Review:
- The Hangover Part II is already one of the biggest box-office success stories of the summer - and that is certainly no big surprise. A few years back, the first Hangover film was a runaway success and a genuine pop-cultural phenomenon. But I think people got much too carried away in pronouncing the first movie as being the next great thing in comedy. I mean, The Hangover was pretty funny, but to me, its moments of genuine hilarity were somewhat offset by the fact that the comedy in the movie was - let's face it - douche comedy. The characters were uniformly douchey, and never all that likable. On one hand, the movie seemed to be actively telling me that "The Wolfpack" was a group of cool dudes who I might like to hang with. On another level, after a few minutes of the film, I quickly grew to dislike all of them, and began to resent the fact that the movie mostly laughed with, but rarely at, its cast of grown-up fratboy characters. I think that's part of the reason why Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow was such a fun, breakout character - we were sort of supposed to root against him, and yet since he was the one character who was given full license to be a totally insane wildcard, the movie never had to worry about making him sympathetic or empathetic. In any case, here we are with The Hangover Part II - and now, suddenly, the critical consensus seems to be that the franchise has taken a sudden nosedive. Reality check: this movie is very, very similar to Part I, with about the same quality of humor, the same number of funny gross-out gags, and the same quotient of less-than-likable characters. You won't care whether they get their happy ending, but you'll laugh as they get shot at, go crazy, and wreak havoc in Bangkok. Here's the deal: The Hangover Part II is a slight step down from the first film. But, the fact that it even exists - and that it retreads so much familiar ground - serves as a reminder that this franchise, these characters, this premise - was only ever mildly funny to begin with - and that, I think, is where some of the newfound critical hostility is coming from.
The Hangover Part II very quickly notifies us of its inherent obnoxiousness by establishing that Ed Helms' character, Stu - supposedly a mild-mannered dentist (at least on the outside) - is now engaged to a personality-less woman played by Jamie Chung. Yes, Jamie Chung, the smokin' hot actress last seen fulfilling fanboy fantasies in Sucker Punch, is set to marry dorky Ed Helms the dentist, and the movie acts as though this is perfectly natural and unremarkable. And, oh yeah, her family is apparently comprised of super-rich Thai folks who throw elaborate, torch-lit weddings on private beaches. And I thought Ed Helms trying to win the affections of Ellie Kemper on The Office was a stretch ... Anyways, that's sort of a random tangent, but it's like ... this is the universe that The Hangover takes place in, you know? It's a douchey place, a sort of mean-spirited place, a snobby sort of place filled with overpriveleged yuppies and bro-tastic bro humor. It just feels like, for all the crazy, embarassing situations that the movie's main characters find themselves in, the movie just won't quit trying to make us think that these guys are, like, soooo awesome. Why? I don't know, exactly, but there's a certain cockiness in the way these movies present themselves that, personally, I find to be a turn-off and not something that's conducive to great comedy.
Nonetheless, a good gross-out gag is a good gross-out gag, and The Hangover 2 has some fairly memorable ones. The first movie made waves for daring to cross certain lines of graphic raunchiness, and its sequel has similarly shocking moments that are not for the prudish. I certainly saw one or two things in this movie that I can't say I've seen in a mainstream comedy before. And hey, some of the shocks are pretty damn funny. Ed Helms coming to terms with the unspeakable acts he's committed with a Thai stripper - one who isn't quite what she seems - was particularly guffaw-worthy. Ken Jeong is also back and once again very amusing. Even though he sometimes suffers from "trying too hard" syndrome, his ridiculous way of talking and total lack of shame or inhibition still makes me laugh.
On the other hand, I have to say that Zack Galifinakis' lovable-idiot act is wearing pretty thin - and the fact that the other characters haven't murdered his goofy character, Alan, by movie's end is in fact pretty remarkable. The movie strains to make him seem lovable ... but is he? Not at this point, and especially not once he time and again seriously screws with his would-be buddies and fellow Wolfpack members. (And by the way, I hate the whole "Wolfpack" thing, because it feels like it just materialized out of someone in the studio marketing department). Anyways, Zack's deadpan stupidity is the kind of thing that gets super annoying if the lines he's given aren't brilliant - and here, they are more often than not merely mildly-amusing at best. But I think that the main problem is, again, that Alan quickly crosses the line from love him to hate him, and the inevitable aww-shucks-let's-all-be-friends reconciliations that take place after he commits multiple acts of idiocy, betrayal, and ineptitude don't feel earned in the slightest. The character never really has a big "hero" moment or anything. Everyone just ultimately accepts him, well, just because, and we as an audience are meant to buy into it. After seeing some surprisingly well-drawn comedy characters lately in movies like Bridesmaids, having to endure the one-dimensional antics of The Hangover's motley crew felt like a bit of a drag. And hey, speaking of Bridesmaids, not to get too ra-ra here, but I did find it a little off-putting at just how nonexistent this movie's female characters were. I mean, again, why the hell is Jamie Chung marrying Ed Helms? Perhaps if she was given any depth, we wouldn't have to scratch our heads wondering about this the whole movie.
As for the other actors in the film - guys like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha ... well Cooper basically just acts as the enabler for the seemingly-docile Helms. And Bartha just sits around, left out once again of the bulk of the adventure. Paul Giamatti shows up as a crime boss who gets mixed up with the main characters, but doesn't make much of an impression except to give us that "Hey! Paul Giamatti! Maybe this movie is about to get better!" moment of brief but ultimately futile hopefulness. And poor Jeffrey Tambor, who so often these days shows up in thankless roles that seem to just cash in on his leftover goodwill from Arrested Development. Stuck playing Alan's overly-supportive, wealthy dad, Tambor shows up all too briefly and is given nothing much to do. And as I alluded to earlier, the women in the film are uniformly used as nothing but attractive window dressing - too bad, in my book.
Still, I didn't think that The Hangover Part II was *horrible.* It chugged along at a decent pace and had a pretty steady stream of laughs, giggles, and chuckles. There's even a pretty good, nicely-staged car chase in there. And there's even a monkey that does silly stuff. But at the end of the day, it's a pretty shallow, by-the-numbers movie that - other than the exotic Thailand setting - doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the original. It's like eating a big box of Panda Express Orange Chicken. When it's fresh and piping hot, it's good. But as you eat more and more, and the chicken gets cold, you start to feel a little queesy, and you start to wonder why the hell you're eating it in the first place. When it came out, I gave The Hangover a just-barely-earned grade of B+ ... a few years later, the beer-goggles have worn off a bit, and it's down a letter grade. Sorry, guys.
My Grade: C+