May 26, 2011

“THE HANGOVER PART II” – Hair Of the Dog

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Worth a Ticket; It Wasn’t Broke, They Didn’t Fix It
In Hollywood, the word “sequel” is often code for “remake.”  This isn’t news:  the James Bond series has been going on for almost 50 years, and allowing for the occasional change in cast and some fluctuation in quality, it’s pretty much been the same movie repeated over and over again (Hey look, it’s Q with the gadgets!).  So one can’t really blame Warner Bros and director Todd Phillips for essentially duplicating their giant success with The Hangover ($467M worldwide) 2 years later by giving us the putative sequel THE HANGOVER PART II.
And by duplicate, I mean a copy so close to the original that if they didn’t already own the copyright, the filmmakers could be sued for infringement.  Not only is Phillips back as director and co-writer (this time with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) and the core cast (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong) reassembled, not only is the basic storyline the same, but the “changes” are basically just swaps of one detail for another.  The only real difference is one of location; with an eye to the international market (the first film only made 41% of its total gross overseas–come on, guys, Warners must have said, you can do better!), we’re in Bangkok instead of Vegas.  But it almost doesn’t matter, since the cities are used in exactly the same way, for their linked associations with outrageous excess and dirty secrets. 

The groom-to-be this time is Stu (Helms), who’s marrying a Thai-American girl, the Heather Graham character from Hangover having vanished.  Phil (Cooper) is again the swinging ringleader of the group, and Alan (Galifianakis) the odd man-child who’s along for the ride and incapable of keeping himself under control.  Again a spare member of the pre-wedding group goes missing, although this time it’s the bride’s brother (Mason Lee)–but the movie is so intent on following the original slavishly that Doug (Bartha), the original lost boy, is still kept off-screen for most of the film.  Where the first movie had the gang saddled with an unknown baby, this time it’s a monkey; where Stu suffered knocked-out teeth 2 years ago, now he’s got a Tyson-like facial tattoo.  They’ve upped the ante on the transgressive act involving one of them, but deleted the good-natured hint of romance that Graham’s hooker provided in the original.  Jeong is again semi-nude and outrageous, Helms provides new lyrics for a song… I could go on; suffice it to say that the script here was less an act of creative writing than an exercise in painting-by-numbers.
None of this makes Hangover II bad–after all, there’s a reason they’re still churning out Bond movies after 50 years.  The cast continues to be terrific together, and even where the story beats are predictable, the little twists and reactions (particularly from Galifianakis) make them work.  Also, Phillips is one of the few current comedy directors to have a strong sense of visual style; his work with cinematographer Lawrence Sher is atmospheric and handsome (compared to Bridesmaids, Hangover II practically looks like Barry Lyndon).  The picture has the benefit of the same crackerjack story structure as the original, so it meanders and drifts far less than films from the Apatow school of comedies do.  It’s all just a little tired.  Watching the film with a sold-out crowd, there’s surprisingly little loud laughter, and what there is seems to be expressing fond familiarity more than the surprising hilarity of the first film.
Because the differences between the movies are so minute, after a while one watches Hangover II for the tonal changes that occasionally appear–it’s like going to see a favorite band play a live show, and hearing a new riff in one of their old hits.  There are brief moments in this film that suggest a darker, even deeper story about friendship and manhood could have emerged, bits where the picture almost seems ready to suggest that these guys aren’t the easygoing heroes we know, and that they might genuinely not like each other all that much.  But those kinds of implications are bad for business, and Hangover is a franchise.  Maybe in Hangover V (set in Rio?), we can look forward to a revisionist reboot.

(THE HANGOVER PART II – Warner Bros – 102 minutes – R – Director:  Todd Phillips – Script:  Phillips, Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong – Cast:  Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Paul Giamatti – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."