28 May 2011

First Impressions: The Hangover: Part II

The Hangover: Part II (2011) is an interesting part of movie history. The first installment, The Hangover in 2009 was one of the hugest surprise hits of the year, and the highest grossing Rated R Comedy of all time, with no major stars or prior brand recognition. It's also barely mainstream, featuring heavy drinking, drug use, sex and tiger theft. Part II (which I need to say, modeling the sequel title after The Godfather: Part II [1974] is brilliantly crass) is virtually a remake, I've never seen a sequel follow the exact beats and plot structure of its predecessor so closely. Yet the plot of the first film was pretty good and the humour is still there, so I'm wondering if the unoriginality alone qualifies this film as shitty. Part II is still hilarious and ups the ante in every possible way even though it is such a thorough retread of the first film. While the first movie was innovative, does that lack of innovation automatically call for a lesser film? Probably, but I was still laughing my ass off so who cares. Needless to say, spoilers follow. If you'll remember, I managed to avoid all manner of advertising going into this one and I can say it made the film very very fun.

Part II is the kind of movie director Todd Phillips could make after making the ridiculous sum of money he made on The Hangover. The scenery is actually breathtaking in some spots, the rolling shots of the Thai landscape are impressive and you can tell it has over double the original's budget. Everything is bigger - the streets are crowded, we trade the Vegas desert for the towers and jungles of Bangkok. This is one thing I'll give the film a lot of credit for - despite its plot rehash, it actually doesn't repeat old jokes or old iconography.

This is Bangkok's movie as much as The Hangover was Vegas' movie. The first installment was so Vegas - the sin amidst the lights and glamour, Caesar's Palace, Luxury Suites, Marriages, sand and Celebrity. There was also accountability with authorities, whether it be cops with tasers or a pissed-off Tyson. In the same vein, Bangkok is Bangkok. It's a whole different animal. The guys don't wake up in their Luxury Suite, they wake up in a dank, dark cockroach motel. It's squalor over glamour - their sins are reflected all around them. The atmosphere of Bangkok is very different from Vegas - there's a lack of accountability from authority figures instead the streets are ruled by drug dealers, pimps and gangsters. This ups the stakes tremendously.

The movie turns on Zach Galifianakis, who is doing his best here to encourage the audience to hate him. He refuses to use his popular Alan Garner character to smirk at the audience or callback what made him great. He just flows into new levels of psychosis, more obsessive over loving Phil (Bradley Cooper) and loathing the Wolf Pack intruder Teddy (Mason Lee, Ang Lee's son actually). I still get upset over Frat Boys suddenly loving Galifianakis here when I stayed up late in High School watching Late World with Zach. Still, Zach plays a dangerous man-child here. He's far more psychotic than anything Will Ferrell comes up with. He's playful and innocent (I still love his reluctance to swear) but destructive, bitter and obsessive. That's part of what makes The Hangover movies work. There's a real danger here, it doesn't let up. The pain and consequences, no matter how outrageous feel so real. When Phil gets shot, we get shot.

The monkey from Night at the Museum's surprise cameo...
One thing that bothered me is that the drunken escapades seemed to weigh heavier on Stu (Ed Helms) than anyone else. He incited a riot, got a Tyson Tat and had willing sex with a transvestite prostitute. Hoorah. It works for the story because he is both the most stuck-up and has the most to lose this time around. Actually it's great how Alan reacts about the same if not worse towards losing his monkey and later his hat and then claims that he is having the worst day. Like the first time around, Phil really has the least crazy shit happen to him, but he's still the Alpha Male and unquestioned leader here. He's the guy who knows what to do when Chow (Ken Jeong) dies and is strong enough to keep the Beta Males together when they're falling apart over Tranny Sex and Monkey Loss.

Ken Jeong is a rising star and his role here is perfect. He's just unstoppable. I thought his death moments after they wake up from the hangover was brilliant but his return was certainly necessary to keep the story moving. That's one thing I love about these movies - they're detective stories. They're stories we all have. Except usually it's like "damn, which ex-girlfriend did I call last night" not "damn, which seedy bar did I burn down to the ground last night?" Chow is nuts and his shift from antagonist to kind-of friend works here.

Justin Bartha is still the most boring actor ever, it was wise for Todd Phillips to keep him docile and let the other three go nuts again (tho in the first film Doug parties equally hard and stays with them all night). Teddy is a good replacement, the set-up of his importance makes his disappearance brutal. The revelation of his lost finger during the end credits is spectacular. Apparently those pics were just the cast and Todd with no other crew wandering around Bangkok trying to find crazy shit.

The women again are pretty one-dimensional but there just isn't room for them in this kind of story. They do what they need to. The crew of Stu, Alan, Phil, Teddy, Chow and an old Monk who took a vow of silence out on the town in Bangkok is incredible enough. The Hangover: Part II doesn't hold back a thing, especially at times when it really should. From the first scene it promises the worst (best?) night imaginable and it delivers, exceeding the first installment in every way. As a side note, three characters say nigger, none of them are black. I wouldn't call Todd Phillips a racist (I'm content with the fact that Tyson could kill him if he was offended) and it adds to the stupidity of the characters more than anything mean-spirited. But what the hell?

So how can they top this for Part III? All I can think of is Amsterdam, baby. Tho Todd seems to say that he would break the mold on the third installment. Why? Keep it going for Alan's wedding, man. That's the way to do it.

Go eat some marshmallows.

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