Review: The Hangover: Part II
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund
The work-backwards mystery of “what the hell happened last night?” is the best thing both “Hangover” movies have going for them, so there's little room for detail dissection in a review of either film. The details, after all, become clues as to why the nocturnally cursed trio of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up on the scummy floor of what's more crime scene than room – nothing wiped clean but their memories. To spill the clues would be to spoil the fun that's terribly precious to this, shall we say, accidental franchise. Thus, in regard to “The Hangover: Part II,” I can't explain to you how the film dimwittedly, offensively and hilariously evokes “The Crying Game”; how a crack about a monkey and a penis scores some surprisingly infectious laughs; why a line about P.F. Chang's is the film's best; why marshmallows are significant; what, exactly, a severed finger has to do with all this; and why, oh why, Paul Giamatti's name is in the credits.
So, what shall we chat about, then? Let's start by acknowledging that, along with whatever else they ingested to land them in round two of WTF hell, Phil, Stu and Alan – collectively and obnoxiously known as “The Wolfpack” – apparently swallowed up the lightning in a bottle that director and co-writer Todd Phillips captured with 2009's “The Hangover.” A rude hack who deals in the unapologetic “coolness” of aggression (see if you can count how many brooding, angry and expletive-laden tracks he crams in this time), Phillips proves ill-suited for high demands and shows a rather pitiful lack of inspiration, structuring his sequel in just about the exact fashion as its predecessor. Again, I won't divulge the particulars of how the mirror-imaging ultimately disappoints, but even those who proudly subscribe to Phillips's brand of middle-fingers-in-the-air humor (“It's a bad man's world,” plays the opening song) will sense the dragging of the filmmaker's feet.
It's no spoiler to say that the comparisons begin with another wedding. Following the nearly-ruined nuptials of Doug (Justin Bartha), the group's tame and sidelined member, it's time for Stu to make it official with his exotic, impossibly stunning fiancée, Lauren (Jamie Chung), whose highfalutin family has planned a picturesque vacation wedding in Thailand. The locale prompts Phillips to gracelessly show off his increased budget, stringing together swooping crane shots of tropical shorelines with the same boorishness afforded the soundtrack arrangement. A whoosh across a jungle road and a rise above a tree line reveal a swanky beachside haven, where Lauren's father, the male Amy Chua, waits to hurl insults at Stu while lauding Lauren's whiz-kid brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), a brilliant cellist and pre-med student ripe for corruption. Reluctantly, Stu, who's “still putting the broken pieces of [his] psyche back together” after his two-year-old trip to Vegas, brings the whole Wolfpack to join the well-to-dos for the blessed occasion, including Alan, whose singular social deficits, we learn, can be partially credited to his being a “stay-at-home son.”
Galifianakis handily runs away with this movie, bagging up the spotlight even more enjoyably than he did in “Part I.” What started as an unsubtle showcase of an edge-of-fame star has become an almost effortlessly uproarious one-man show of awkward comic greatness. Intimately and eerily aware of the twisted gears that make his Baby-Huey-from-outer-space character tick, Galifianakis is better than he's ever been, responsible for most of the sequel's plentiful crack-up moments. Not to be undersold is Helms, who, hot off his terrific turn in the very good “Cedar Rapids” earlier this year, keeps up his enviable talent for imbuing Average Joes with riotous befuddlement (his reactions to “Part II”'s ever-mounting mishaps are never less than priceless). The two second-billed funnymen cast a shadow over man-of-the-moment Cooper (whose penchant for playing handsome, cocky pricks is looking more and more like one-noteness), and their ace contributions are reasons enough to recommend this movie.
This is coming from someone who didn't much care for “The Hangover,” an average-at-best fluke that ranks among Hollywood's most overrated and undeserving success stories. Never mind the fact that Phillips – along with his fluctuating grab-bag of co-writers – can't develop a decent female character to save his life (the guy ain't exactly interested in stretching far beyond his target audience). The real sin was that the 2009 phenomenon wasn't all that funny. Shocking attractions like a diminutively-endowed Ken Jeong (who also appears here) made a splash, and the setting of Vegas lent much to the material (another virtue of the sequel, which mainly unfolds in seedy, merciless and atmospheric Bangkok). But honest viewers will admit that “The Hangover” was a mindlessly viral, communal triumph, not one of genuine wit or craft. It's the kind of movie that's howled at and revered because of some unspoken, inexplicable social requirement. That, and because it taps into the layman's thrill of drinking to forget, and then straining to remember. At the “Hangover: Part II” screening I attended, a sponsoring radio station staged a “hangover contest” in the front of the theater, where two young women had to act out their best morning after, mock-vomiting into a microphone and feigning memory loss and migraines. The crowd cheered and the girls received prizes.
I'm not going to turn this into some sort of preachy indictment, as I don't blame Phillips for the sad display in the theater anymore than I blame Nicholas Sparks for the widespread acceptance of abysmal melodrama. Let's just say I rest my case as far as illuminating how an unworthy beast became a box-office juggernaut. As for “The Hangover: Part II,” similar returns can be expected, only this time there's more to boast. The humor is much bigger and much better, even if it's inexorably snuffed out by a same old, same old framework. Why is there a monk wearing Teddy's hoodie? Why do events lead to a scene with a 9-year-old getting a tattoo? Why does Stu claim he has “a demon” in him? The devil truly is in the details.