The Hangover Part II

Review by Matt Bochenski @MattLWLies

Directed by

Todd Phillips

Starring

Bradley Cooper Ed Helms Zach Galifianakis

Anticipation.

The Hangover was a genuine phenomenon. But wasn’t it also a touch overrated? The law of diminishing returns tells us not to get too excited.

Enjoyment.

Loud, dumb, occasionally obnoxious but truly, unashamedly hilarious.

In Retrospect.

If the franchise ended here, it would be a very good thing. Surely they can’t bottle lightning a third time?

The Wolfpack hit Bangkok in this loud, dumb, occasionally obnoxious but truly hilarious sequel.

Hollywood loves to celebrate success, and few films were more successful than 2009’s The Hangover. Todd Phillips’ word-of-mouth monster is now habitually referred to (by its marketing team, at least) as ‘the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time’. Not the ‘best’, mind you. Or the ‘funniest’. But the most lucrative.

So the stakes couldn’t be much clearer for this sequel. Like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hangover franchise has quickly morphed from rebel-on-the-block to studio cornerstone. Unlike Pirates, however, The Hangover Part II manages to make that transition with dignity intact – not that dignity was ever a big theme in the first place. This sequel may be bigger, dumber and louder than the original – no surprises there – but the big shock is that it’s funnier, too.

There’s a weird kind of comic alchemy happening on screen as we follow The Wolfpack – Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) – to Thailand, where Stu is marrying into a wealthy Thai family, much to the displeasure of its fearsome patriarch. The catalyst for chaos this time around is a quiet drink on the beach with Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee), which turns, once again, into a hungover morning after an epic – and forgotten – night before.

Almost every beat from the first film is reprised. Stu’s missing tooth is now a tattoo. Mike Tyson’s tiger is a drug-dealing monkey. An ancient wheelchair-bound monk replaces the baby. And this time it’s Teddy who’s lost, with a new city – Bangkok – to explore.

Everything about the set-up speaks to the worst values of the Hollywood system – conservatism, fear, contemptuous distrust of the audience and poverty of imagination. The very essence of character – development, progression, growth, change – is here abandoned for stasis and recidivism. The Hangover Part II is a Sisyphean nightmare, with The Wolfpack doomed to repeat past behaviours forever.

Only, buried somewhere within this ugly truth, is the root of the film’s success. Because although Phillips isn’t brave enough to let his characters branch out, he’s smart enough to recognise it, and build this self-awareness into the script. “We did it again,” says Phil ruefully, as they stumble through the wreckage of the previous night. With this honesty (or is it shamelessness?) comes confidence, with confidence comes charm, and with that charm comes a breezy ability to carry the audience through the film on a wave of escalating absurdity and irresistible laughs.

Yes, The Hangover Part II is boorish, rude and culturally disinterested (hey, it’s an American abroad), but it’s also fucking hilarious. There’s no point discussing the hows or whys of its many comic set-pieces – that would only spoil them – but suffice to say that Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis and Phillips know exactly who these characters are and precisely what to do with them. With brilliant support from a scene-stealing Ken Cheong reprising his role as Mr Chow – now very much in his element – and a few exotic touches added to the mix (a flashback scene to the night before with the cast reimagined as kids is inspired) The Hangover Part II is a riot.

There are, of course, some heavy-handed touches that don’t quite work; Galifianakis is an acquired taste; and the very final scene may strike some viewers as self-referential to a fault (in fact, cynics might find it tragic, distasteful and humiliating), but The Hangover Part II acquits itself with truly surprising vivacity to an all-but-impossible task. Whether it will become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time is yet to be seen. But we might tentatively start calling it one of the best.

Published 25 May 2011

Tags: Bradley Cooper Ed Helms Todd Phillips Zach Galifianakis

Anticipation.

The Hangover was a genuine phenomenon. But wasn’t it also a touch overrated? The law of diminishing returns tells us not to get too excited.

Enjoyment.

Loud, dumb, occasionally obnoxious but truly, unashamedly hilarious.

In Retrospect.

If the franchise ended here, it would be a very good thing. Surely they can’t bottle lightning a third time?

Read More

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