The Hangover II Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
The Wolfpack are back, but they've been rebranded as puppies...
It was always going to be difficult. The Hangover emerged from nowhere and, after an initial degree of hesitation, went on to become one of the most successful releases of 2009. Furthermore, the film was also a commercial success, grossing just over $277 million on a $35 million budget - a figure that makes it the 'highest grossing R-rated movie of all time' (as my press pack informs me) - whilst also bagging itself the Golden Globe for best film...not bad for a film whose cast consisted of fairly unknown stars.
The Hangover II sees our Wolfpack - primarily Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - reuniting once more to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of Stu and his fiancée, Lauren (Jamie Chung). However, with the memory of Doug's disastrous stag-do in Las Vegas still fresh in the groom's mind, Stu tries to worm out of any sort of celebration and, suggesting instead a pre-wedding brunch, hopes to prevent a recurrence of Vegas. Yet, despite his precision planning and subdued suggestions, the trio soon awake in a random apartment - in what they discover is Bangkok - and must (again) begin to reassess their situation and piece together their night.
So, after two years the question that must now be answered is this - does The Hangover II build on its predecessor's success, or is this film yet another example of a franchise that should have been left alone?
Well the obvious answer to the first part is no, but, much like the situation that our 'Wolfpack' find themselves in, it's a rather complicated one. Put it this way, everything that made the original a success is there, so - on paper at least - this film has everything it needs to continue its formidable run. However, this is potentially the biggest downfall of the film. Despite their best efforts (all admitted to being given a large amount of artistic freedom during filming), this film follows too rigorously the outline of its predecessor; to the point that, if this film was submitted as an assignment, it would be torn to shreds because of its obvious self-plagiarism. In The Hangover, director Todd Phillips gave us an escape from our rudimentary lives, a form of voyeurism that allowed us to experience the deepest, darkest regrets that came with the total memory loss brought on by a drunken endeavour. Unfortunately, Phillips has been unable to replicate his original ingenuity in The Hangover II, instead presenting us with a regurgitated - and somewhat uninspired - follow up that, whilst pushing the boundaries of a "15" rating to its limits, does so with very little thought.
At the beginning of the film, we receive a serious dose of deja vu, with Phil placing a call to his wife to explain that the three of them are lost and unlikely to make the wedding. From here, the film backtracks, taking us right back to the US and Stu's dental practice, before sweeping us through the standard run of events. The group meet (find) Alan; invite him; board a plane to Thailand, and subsequently arrive in Thailand. At this point, you are willing to forgive any glaring moments of self-plagiarism because the film is still establishing its foundations...fair enough. Further still, we continue to turn a blind eye to yet more similarities throughout its opening, ensuring ourselves that the film will obviously lead onto new areas in due course...it doesn't. Instead, The Hangover II runs through like an American Football team following a playbook - everything feels overly rehearsed and devoid of any real originality. Sure the guys are in Bangkok, and the trouble that ensues is a testament to this, but it's the same film, just in a different location.
However, one thing that has changed is the screen time given to Alan (Galifianakis). Obvious to the fact that his obscurity and childish antics were staples of The Hangover's success, Phillips and Co seem to have given the actor free reign on both his role and the film. While there can be no denying Galifianakis is a funny man - one capable of both unique improv skills and unexpected reactions (both facial and emotional) - I cannot help but feel it has shaken the balance and lost. On too many occasions did the film feel like a Zach Galifianakis featuring production, something that drew away from Stu's impressive performance and a number of key sub-plots that the film could - and should - have made so much more from. Don't get me wrong, Alan was as enjoyable as ever, but what do they say about too much of a good thing?
Another dubious choice was the soundtrack throughout the film. Even as I write this, I can't decide whether it was actually bad, or just of such a variance to that of the film's trailers that it sort of shocked me. There were moments of brilliance, such as the playing of 'The Beast in Me' by Johnny Cash during their hangover arising - a song that perfectly introduced the forthcoming nightmare - but these were tarnished by the film's over-reliance on the pop genre; the playing of Kanye West's 'Stronger' during their slow-mo airport walk just did not work for me, but this may be a personal issue. Generally, I found the music to be average, neither adding to nor taking away from the on-screen visuals, so it has to go down as a missed opportunity.
Now I have been a bit down on the film to date, so let's concentrate on the positives. First and foremost, it's The Hangover. So the film suffers from a lack of imagination; a new direction with which to extend it - is this necessarily a bad thing? The Hangover redefined comedy, presenting an idea totally unlike any before it, so what else could it have done? Opinions aside, The Hangover II has, once again, put two fingers up to the conventional, run-of-the-mill comedies that seem to infest our cinemas these days, and has instead stuck to what it knows and followed that agenda.
Secondly, one cannot help but laugh at the extremities of the group's actions. To name but a few - someone loses a finger, the guys kidnap a monk, hide a dead body and Stu reaches a climax which he will never be able to forget. Just as Bruno redefined the 'extremes' of Borat, so does II notch up on I. Exposed penes; ladyboy strippers and a drug-dealing monkey - all things I have now witnessed thanks to The Hangover II.
Finally, we cannot forget the performances of a number of the founding fathers of this franchise. Galifianakis is, as ever, fantastic as Alan, and Cooper too is entertaining as Phil. However, credit must go to Ed Helms - or Stu - whose full range as an actor is tested within. His ability to change emotions at the drop of a hat is remarkable - going from calm to screaming in a matter of seconds - and is one of the film's saving graces. Furthermore, a number of agreeable supporting performances add to the film's appeal, yet are unable to shake its familiar feeling. Paul Giamatti is convincing - if not a little limited - as Kingsley, an apparent drug-baron the guys become involved with; Jamie Chung is a welcomed addition as Stu's fiancée, Lauren, making the most of her limited screen time; and Mike Tyson is his usual, charming self, injecting fear into the boys once again for the sake of our amusement. However, once again it is Ken Jeong - or Mr. Chow as he is known - that provides the level of insanity this film needs, and this sequel has really allowed him to come into his own. Zany, camp, indecent - whichever term you use to describe him, Jeong presents a no holds barred performance that is sure to have you laughing out loud on a number of occasions.
To put it simply, The Hangover II is an old idea with a new setting, similar to that of a remake rather than a sequel. Its strengthened cast and new location are a nice touch, but are unable to cover up a number of glaring discrepancies throughout. Instead of looking for Doug, the boys are now looking for Teddy - Lauren's little brother; and while not trapped on the roof, Teddy's whereabouts are frighteningly similar to Doug's in the original. Furthermore, the film leaves a number of rather big issues unanswered. For example, after waking up, the Wolfpack soon discovers their new-found monkey nibbling on a finger of Teddy's, a budding musician and the apple of his father's eye. Yet, when they finally work out his whereabouts, they commonly explain that they left his finger with a drug-monkey. Now, maybe it's just me, but if my fiancee's brother's finger had become severed, I would make it my utmost priority to have it reattached upon finding him. Unfortunately, The Hangover II fails to answer a number of pressing questions, leaving you both frustrated and confused as to what just happened.
While it pains me - as a long standing fan of the original - to give this film anything other than a five star rating, it would be a travesty to objective journalism for me to do so. While the concept is good, the film offers nothing that its predecessor has not already delivered, and its rating must reflect this. This is not to say that the film doesn't offer laughs - with all the usual "delights" of Bangkok presented in the most humorous of lights plus some - but it doesn't build on the foundations of the original, choosing instead to reimage its initial idea before whoring it out to the public as 'fresh' material.
By all means, see this movie - I'm sure many of you will enjoy it - but in my honest opinion, this is a hangover you're better off without...
The Hangover Part II is out now.
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