THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE HANGOVER PART II"
The Hangover had such a specific premise that it wouldn't seem to lend itself to a sequel. If a sequel is going to be made - and one has - I think there are two ways to go about it. The first, and preferable, way would be to have the characters acknowledge the rush they got from their first misadventure, say That was kind of fun! Let's do that again!, and induce their own blackout. The second way is to have them coincidentally end up in the same situation and say, This is happening again?! I think this approach is a lot harder to pull off because it sets the stage for the sequel to merely repeat the original rather than finding its own footing. That brings us to The Hangover Part II, which unapologetically goes for option B.
Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are all back. Stu, no longer involved with the prostitute he met in the original, is now engaged to a woman whose family hails from Thailand. The wolfpack heads over there for the wedding. They ask the bride-to-be's teenage brother to join them for a drink on the beach. Next thing you know, they're waking up in a dingy, dirty Bangkok hotel room. The brother is gone, except for his severed finger. Once again, they must find the missing member of their party and piece together their lost night.
The Hangover Part II really adheres to the old maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The movie goes out of its way to emulate the look of the original, as well as to replicate certain scenes and lines of dialogue. The changes are minor. Stu awakens with another deformity (this time a facial tattoo). Instead of a tiger, there's a monkey in the bathroom. Over the end credits, we see a montage of photos taken during their night of debauchery. I could go on like this all day. In theory, that approach makes sense, yet somehow the film manages to "break it" while intentionally not "fixing it."
Whenever you have a comedy that is as edgy and raunchy as The Hangover, filmmakers have a natural tendency to push the envelope even further with the follow-up. Nine times out of ten, that turns out to be a bad idea, because it becomes very easy to step over the line of funny and into the area of disturbing. Setting Hangover II in Bangkok probably sounded like a great idea on paper. As director/co-writer Todd Phillips has correctly pointed out in interviews, Las Vegas was practically another character in the original, so the sequel needed a location that was just as strong. Here's the thing, though: Bangkok is not a particularly funny place. Vegas has lights and flash and glitz covering up a sometimes seedy and sometimes immoral core, giving it a humorous artifice. The worst sections of Bangkok - which is where this movie almost totally takes place - have a reputation for being dark and scary, with a depressing sex trade. Not exactly fertile ground for comedy. Factor in a weak subplot involving a crime lord and you have a recipe for not laughing.
Another problem is that because it adheres so closely to the original, there's no sense of surprise. Things that were originally disarming in their unexpectedness are now utterly predictable. I always felt a couple steps ahead of the plot, and that's a problem because part of what made the first Hangover so much fun was that you didn't know from minute to minute where the story was headed. Nowhere is this predictability more evident than in the "coincidental" appearance in Bangkok of Chow (Ken Jeong), who says and does all the same stuff in all the same ways. (Yes, you also see his junk again.)
To be fair, The Hangover Part II is watchable. The three stars are still solid together, and watching them interact in desperate situations holds your attention. Zach Galifianakis manages to pull off a few chuckles with his line readings too. I just remember the experience I had watching the first film; I laughed hard from start to finish. This time, I hardly laughed at all. The situations Phil, Stu, and Alan find themselves in are often kind of frightening, which robs them of their comic potential. You could watch the original Hangover for the third, fourth, or fifth time and still laugh more than you would seeing this sequel once.
( out of four)
The Hangover Part II will be released to home video on Dec. 6. It can be purchased on DVD or in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack that also includes an UltraViolet digital copy. Additionally, it can be rented on demand via digital cable and satellite providers, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and CinemaNow.
The bonus materials are, sadly but appropriately, rather disappointing. The most notable of them is a faux Unauthorized Documentary. Actor Rob Benedict (who was quite good in an indie film called A Little Help that you should totally seek out) plays an aspiring documentary filmmaker who dogs director Todd Phillips and actor Ken Jeong, among others, in an effort to expose the cast's alleged antics in Bangkok. The whole thing is played as though the production has something to hide, and this lone truth-seeker is trying to uncover it. A one-joke piece at best, the segment runs on for a very long 25 minutes. Cameos from Morgan Spurlock and J.J. Abrams do little to compensate for a thin, unfunny premise.
“The Comedy Rhythm of Todd Phillips” is a much shorter segment in which the director discusses his style (he likes to allow for improvisation), while his stars share their thoughts on working with him (they like that he allows for improvisation). “Not Your Everyday Monkey” looks at Crystal, the simian co-star of the movie. The actors profess their love for her, especially Bradley Cooper, who seems to have become extremely attached. It's a cute feature, but not particularly substantive. “Bangkok Tour With Chow” finds Ken Jeong in character, giving a guided tour of the city. I'm of the belief that Ken Jeong is tolerable only in extremely small doses. Watching him engage in his loud, over-the-top nonsense for three-and-a-half continuous minutes was grating to me.
Also on the Blu-Ray is “Action Mash-Up,” a pointless 45-second montage of action from the film, and a gag reel that's intermittently amusing, but not nearly as unexpurgated as you might expect.
The Hangover Part II is rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.