I’d been anticipating The Hangover Part II, not because I felt the first movie was exceptionally good (it was…alright), but because I thought it might be refreshing to watch a comedy which didn’t conform to the politically-correct dictates of “good taste.” Unfortunately, while The Hangover Part II is, like its predecessor, moderately amusing and watchable, it suffers from “sequel-itis” and misses the boat in other ways as well.
For instance, despite the superficially-anarchic nature of its protagonists, depicted as drug-and-alcohol abusers (in one of the earliest scenes, Phil asks dentist Stu to let him sniff some nitrous oxide, and then attempts to steal a pad of prescription blanks) who harbour deep-seated tendencies towards violence and self-mutiliation (Stu admits he “has a demon inside”), these characters are also shown to be respectable, upper-middle-class professionals with wives and children. The Hangover Part II pays only passing lip-service to this apparent contradiction, the madcap (at times absolutely criminal) antics of the characters have no lasting, adverse consequences (for them), and the film concludes with an absolutely unbelievable, wholly-contrived “affirmation” of family values, and not in an ironic way (as in the epilogue to Animal House, for example, where the oafish Bluto Blutarsky is identified as a future U.S. Senator).
Speaking of consequences, one of the oddest loose-ends of The Hangover Part II is the plot device of having 16-year-old Teddy (a talented cellist and future surgeon) accidentally cut off his finger. This is played for laughs and no one—not even Teddy—seems disturbed by the apparent ruination of his future life plans (and it’s incomprehensible to believe his father, Stu’s future father-in-law, would shrug this off and not blame Stu). At the very least, the film could have included one line of dialogue where Teddy said, “I’m kind of glad I lost my finger, it was my father who pushed me into music and medicine, and now the pressure to excel is off.”
So in the only instance where the so-called Wolf Pack’s night of drunken excess has lasting results (for one of the group, that is)—even Stu’s tattoo will be lasered-off when he returns to the USA—the tragic consequences are brushed aside. [If one were to extra-filmically project realistic risks on their behaviour, Stu at the very least is in danger of contracting AIDS after having unprotected sex with a ladyboy…serious consequences indeed. (I hope he tells his wife about this liaison before their wedding night, for her sake.)] But no, nothing permanently bad could possibly happen to the protagonists of The Hangover Part II, and as far as those anonymous background people killed, injured or left homeless or out of work as a result of the impromptu bachelor party…ah, screw ‘em!
This philosophical dilemma aside, The Hangover Part II does deliver a fair amount of fun and excitement. The plot structure is the same as the first film: what did we do last night? This has advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, the film is constructed as a mystery, and follows the traditional genre format, uncovering clues, interviewing people, moving on to the next step until the secret is revealed. On the negative side, this means the spectacularly wild adventures of the Wolf Pack’s boys-night-out are only discussed, not shown.
Some have characterised The Hangover Part II as closer to a remake than a sequel. There are some references to the earlier movie and the script takes a few short-cuts but no particular knowledge of The Hangover is required. Very quickly we learn Phil is the risk-taker, Stu is the timid one, Alan is…”challenged” (socially, emotionally, possibly mentally…). Mr. Chow, Doug, and Mike Tyson return from the first film, but there is no inherent reason they couldn’t have been brand new characters. And the narrative structure and basic plot is the same. You don’t mess with success. But…this also means the freshness of the original movie is lacking in this one. There are fewer surprises, the possibility of “discovery” has been reduced, we already know Phil, Stu, Alan, etc., and how they are going to react: no one really has really grown or changed. Only the backdrop is different, and while Bangkok is somewhat more exotic than Las Vegas, it doesn’t make that much difference in the movie.
In case anyone hasn’t read a synopsis, the set up is: dorky dentist Stu is engaged to Lauren. Stu, Phil, Doug, Alan (reluctantly invited by Stu at the request of Doug’s wife), and Lauren’s teenage brother Teddy travel to Thailand for the wedding (Lauren and Teddy are of Thai descent and their wealthy parents still live there). Stu insists on having no bachelor party, fearing a repeat of their adventures in Las Vegas, but “it happens again!” Stu, Phil and Alan wake up in a sleazy Bangkok hotel with no memory of how they got there; Teddy is missing (well, his finger is still there). Doug, in the superfluous Zeppo Marx role, has to cover for them with Lauren and her family as the Odd Trio scrambles to find Teddy before the wedding. Drugs, alcohol, gunfire, car chases, a manic Mr. Chow, Russian mobsters, ladyboys, a cute monkey, a silent monk, Ed gets a tattoo on his face, Phil is shot, Alan’s head is shaved, hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity, but…moderate amusement anyway.
To be fair, the performances in The Hangover Part II are quite good, with Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis each playing to their strengths. At no point does anyone threaten to steal the movie, even though Galifianakis has arguably the flashiest role (he’s also the least-consistent character, however, and he’s short-changed by the script at times). Phil wants to party hearty, but once the party is over and the trio shifts to crisis mode, he becomes the straight man, the voice of reason compared to hysterical Stu and weird Alan. Aside from Ken Jeong, who is quite funny as the bitchy Mr. Chow, everyone else more or less blends into the background. The production values are fine and the film makes good use of Bangkok in particular and Thailand in general as locations.
My reaction to The Hangover Part II was basically the same as it was to The Hangover. Amusing, worth seeing, well-made, but not earth-shakingly good.