So, since Friday afternoon the internet has been obscured by a mushroom cloud of critic-hate because The Hangover: Part II is “the worst sequel of all time” (Daily Mail) or, even worse, “an asshole” (Vanity Fair). Yeah, someone called the movie an asshole, just like you can call a human being an asshole. Wow. That’s harsh.
The first review I read was on one of my favorite sites, Pajiba, which was pretty incensed to begin with. Since then the pile of angry, bile-spitting reviews has only grown. I thought, “Wow, could this movie really be that bad? Should I even bother to see it?”
Well, I figured it was worth a shot. Even if it was just as bad as critics were saying, it would be worth writing about. Everyone knows that Hollywood has gotten particularly lazy over the past several years. Sequels, remakes, reboots, franchises and, yes, sagas, have been making this painfully obvious. If The Hangover: Part II was the tipping point for all of this, unleashing so much disgust and anger, at the very least I could write about that.
Then I saw the movie.
Well, let me provide a few thoughts to set this up. Is The Hangover: Part II similar to its predecessor? Yes. Does it have some of the same plot points? Um, yeah. Similar shots and some of the same lines? Yes. Does it have the same actors in it? Yes. Is it on film and projected on a blank wall? Oh my God, yes!
Should we be incredibly offended by this? No.
Because seriously, what was everyone expecting? The title uses words like Hangover and the number 2. My grasp of English tells me this may mean “2nd hangover” or something. Get it? The setup from the first film is going to happen again. In fact, the setup is the film. From the moment the film starts and it shows weather-beaten Phil (Bradley Cooper) on the phone, saying “It happened again,” I knew what we were in for. That’s just it: it happened again.
This sequel is not about character development or changes in circumstance. It means that three guys are going to get wasted and wake up the next morning not remembering a thing. Their adult Hide-and-Seek championship begins. Wacky hijinks ensue. The audience laughs. We go home.
And honestly, did it fail there? No. The theater I was in was howling with laughter during some scenes. I laughed too, even when I didn’t want to. I tried to hate this movie but found it didn’t deserve that hatred. Because, really, it wasn’t that horribly bad.
Despite this I’m not here to defend the movie as a whole. It follows the template of The Hangover (2009) to a tee. Thing is, it’s a formula that works in its own bizarre way. There’s no disputing that (or its box office). But really its writer-director, Todd Phillips, could have tried harder. The plotting and writing is painfully derivative of the first. That’s frustrating because some extra effort on his part could have gone a long way. Also, his choice of Bangkok as a setting is problematic. We no longer have three guys acting like idiots in Vegas, but three boorish white guys acting like idiots in a foreign country. It’s pretty embarrassing at times, especially when they breeze into a Buddhist monastery and start yelling.
Would I fault the actors, though? Not really. They give it all they’ve got. What’s more, you can tell that they are actually suffering in their sweltering, foreign environment. They look and behave as if they’re exhausted and sick- which they were. However this only adds to the realism of their performances. The problem is this kind of realism isn’t what audiences were looking for.
What I wish I could say is that the Wolfpack is better prepared and more mature during their second round of bedlam. Sadly, their characters are pretty much the same. Phil is still a self-serving jerk. Stu (Ed Helms) is still the brunt of a lot of verbal abuse. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is still the same supremely screwed-up “stay-at-home son” he was in the first movie. He is also further proof that Galifianakis’s onscreen crying is an art form (so much, in fact, that people respond to his real-life crying with laughter).
Since Part II fails at being its own beast the pleasure is in the details. A bag of Fanta. An IHOP bachelor brunch. Numerous Billy Joel references (Glass Houses, “Downeaster Alexa,” “Allentown”). Alan smoking an old-timey pipe at the airport. It’s little things like this, as well as some unexpected flourishes, that make the movie enjoyable. The supporting cast does what they can with the material, including solid performances from Jeffrey Tambor and Paul Giamatti. Unfortunately their screen time is in the two-minute range.
In the end, I think The Hangover: Part II doesn’t suffer because it is a shameless rip-off of The Hangover. It simply suffers because it exists. I’ll refer back to what I’ve written before: “This sequel is not about character development or changes in circumstance.” “Sadly, their characters are pretty much the same.” Part of the magic of the first Hangover was that it was about three men who were scared shitless and forced to grow up and pay for their actions. I believed how overwhelmed and bewildered they were as well as how they would never, ever want this to happen to them again. As the first movie drew to a close I wondered if the movie was about these guys “getting it out of their system” and choosing to become real men.
But they don’t. Right now critics are saying Part II is a shameless remake. I would say it’s a reboot. This movie erases all of the development the first film has carefully laid down. We’re back at square one. No one in the Wolfpack has really changed. Phil is back to whining and berating everyone. Stu endures the insults of his father-in-law instead of a controlling girlfriend. Alan is still obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. They aren’t men at all. They’re still boys. During one scene in Part II there is a flashback of their chaotic binging in Bangkok, only the three leads are replaced by child look-alikes. So there you go.
In fact, the only positive aspect of the two films put together is that they may be the longest and most effective anti-drug/alcohol PSA ever. Other than that The Hangover stands on its own. If you really liked it, just stick with it. If you really want to see the sequel, proceed with caution. Is it fun? Yeah, sure. It has its moments. The problem is there are no lessons learned. Perhaps that’s what hurts it the most.