Saturday, 28 May 2011
The Hangover Part II
The Hangover Part II (2011) dir. Todd Phillips
Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianikis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Nick Cassavetes and convicted rapist Mike Tyson
By Greg Klymkiw
The boys are back in town. This time it’s not Vegas, but Bangkok.
The unexpected comedy hit of 2009 has a sequel.
The Hangover was a fuel-injected, insanely hilarious and almost perfect combination of fish out of water humour, gross-out laugh-grabbers and irresistible bro-mantic styling that took the world by storm and never looked back.
Alas, it looked ahead – to more through-the-roof box office grosses – and frankly, in spite of the earning potential, there really was no other reason to resurrect these characters in the same formula in another city. None whatsoever! Especially since its makers already created a movie that was so original - a tired retread is the last thing one would expect.
Since the first picture delivered endearing characters, it's no stretch to believe that audiences would want to see them again. In The Hangover, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are a wolf pack of mismatched buddies who end up in Las Vegas to have one last blowout before one of them gets married. Under the influence of copious amounts of booze and drugs, the groom-to-be mysteriously disappears and the other pals, all suffering from hazy hangovers, try to piece together their “lost weekend” and find their missing friend. As the film proceeds, more and more of their adventures come back to them and oh, what a night it was!
The comedy writing was so sharp, funny and unabashedly crude that one assumed the filmmakers would find an entirely new adventure for these guys. These characters deserved better than what this sequel gives them.
In the first film, Phil had a clearly defined character and one that all in the audience (not just "bros'") could relate to - that of the handsome young man who feels caught in what has become the "trap" of comfort and complacency. In the second film, he seems less a character, lost - not because of any clever writing that explores a sense of wayward loss, but because the filmmakers have lazily deciding to let the affable charm of leading man Bradley Cooper carry the picture.
Stu was a great character in the first film - a complacent dentist, a nebbish in a relationship with a gorgeous, but nasty harridan-in-the-making. He eventually discovers a repressed side of his personality that gives him considerable strength. Here, he's a nebbish once more, only now he has found love and faces the conflict of winning over his tight-assed father-in-law. While one could argue that this is a slightly new direction - especially since his adventures here lead to the discovery of a "dark side", his journey is far less interesting as the hurdle seems relatively low-stakes. Sure, there are high stakes involved in the wedding itself being scuttled, but this seems like a convenient extension of his character's "need".
Alan in the first Hangover picture was the archetypal "wild man" - alternately naive and knowing. The character also signaled the big-screen arrival of a comic force to truly be reckoned with in the form of the brilliant and funny Zach Galfianakis. He's certainly the getter of the bigger laughs in this chapter of the tale, but he now seems like an archetype that's had a mix of character traits assigned to him that are supposed to flesh him out. They only seek to confuse the issue and the audience is forced to fall back on the pure archetype and Galfiankis's comic gifts.
In the original picture, Doug was the missing groom and now he has been relegated to the role of the guy who stays behind and acts as a buffer zone between the guys and the gals as they communicate their predicament via cel phone. He seemed barely a character the first time around, but now is reduced to a mere device.
The "missing man" turns out to be the younger brother of Stu's gorgeous Asian fiancee. He's the apple of the family's eye and his disappearance definitely adds much needed repercussions to the narrative. That said, the narrative is essentially rooted in the exact same formula of the first movie - boringly, unimaginatively repeated, only this time in Bangkok rather than Vegas. This truly does not a good movie, nor sequel, make.
Insane and over-the-top as The Hangover was, it actually had a sense of credibility going for it, which, in this sequel, is thrown completely out the window. Okay, so it’s a gross-out bro-mance, you say. Who needs credibility? Well, I’d argue that it was that very credibility that made the proceedings in the first movie so damned funny. Here, all we get are intermittent gags within the now-tired formula that are genuinely, albeit infrequently, funny.
The full house I saw it with sat silently through much of the movie with smatterings of scattered laughter and a few humongous collective belly laughs. For the most part, the overall disappointment was quite palpable. Maybe the movie WILL die the horrible death it deserves, but I'm not going to put money on that.
Look, I’m all for offensive, politically incorrect humour, but this sequel managed to make even me want to become a card-carrying Bleeding Heart PC-Nazi. I’m even a huge fan of ethnic stereotypes used for gags, but this movie manages to very unpleasantly go beyond the pale, even for me. When such humour is used successfully, it casts a mirror upon ourselves and allows its characters to come to new understandings.
No such thing happens here.
In The Hangover Part II, petty bourgeois American values rear their heads far too often. Here we essentially have a group of well-to-do young men from America in a land so foreign to them that while watching this movie one gets increasingly sickened to see joke after joke tossed off at the expense of all the squalor and poverty around these characters.
In a city (Bangkok) and country (Thailand) renowned for its illegal sex tours for paedophiles and bearing the huge weight and disgrace of sexual slavery, it soon becomes draining and yes, nasty, unnecessarily offensive and downright appalling to see one joke after another at the expense, not only of the poverty around the main characters, but by extension, of those who continue to suffer under the yoke of sexual exploitation.
The endless cudgel of Asian stereotypes was funny a couple of times, but to have it play out all the way through the movie was beyond any reasonable tolerance level for such humour. Ken Jeong as the fey Asian gangster party boy Chow is, to be sure, a stereotype, but in the first outing he was used sparingly and within the context of the narrative, he was an example of an "offensive" element that seemed rooted - not only in story, but as a reasonable credible addition to the anarchy. Here, he is overused to a point of distraction. While Jeong is a brilliant comic actor, his first appearance in the sequel was pleasing - in so far as he is a delightful presence - but alas, he becomes the primary whipping boy for milking offensive stereotypes, especially in the gags involving his microscopic penis.
I feel little need at this point to list all these stereotypes. The movie does are more than sufficient job at utilizing and perpetuating them.
Frankly, the makers of this film should be ashamed of themselves. They won’t be, of course, since The Hangover Part II is almost sure to make money and thus justify the producers' unimaginative retread of the same idea in the context of thumbing its nose at cultures different than their own. If there had at least been an attempt to turn the tables on the insular ignorance of the American characters as a significant part of the humour, this otherwise boneheaded reprise might have worked in a passable fashion. That, however, might have taken something resembling intelligence - which, by the way, it takes to make great stupid comedies. (Mel Brooks, ZAZ, Farelly Brothers anyone?)
Fish out of water is one thing, but to glorify insular American ignorance and crudity without any of the characters or the audience genuinely breaking through the stereotyping and good-naturedly coming to a true understanding of the very different cultural experience they undergo is not only borderline evil, but mean-spirited and racist.
Oddly enough, the film’s producers, with the support of many cast members, decided to fire Mel Gibson from a cameo appearance in the film after his last public outburst of alcohol-and-violence-charged racially insensitive comments. It didn’t stop these people from making a film as racist and insensitive as Gibson’s outbursts. But even more hypocritical and disgusting, they were more than happy to reprise a Mike Tyson cameo from the previous film. In The Hangover, Tyson’s appearance was credible AND funny. In that film, Tyson was the owner of the tiger our crazed heroes steal. In spite of Tyson's real-life crimes, one was almost able to look past them (or even incorporate them) into the excess of both Vegas, America and Tyson himself. In the sequel, his cameo is not only gratuitous, but lacking in any sort of the wacko credibility that made it work so well the first time around.
Most regrettably, Tyson's appearance in The Hangover Part II is proof positive of how disingenuous the actions of the filmmakers were in giving Mel Gibson the boot from the cameo appearance as the tattoo artist (replaced by Liam Neeson and further replaced by Nick Cassavetes). Mike Tyson is not only a disgraced former heavyweight boxing champion, but he is a convicted rapist.
Tyson duped, forcibly confined, brutalized and raped an 18-year-old woman.
Nobody on the creative team of The Hangover Part II seems to have had a problem with that and to reiterate, Tyson's cameo was an excellent comment on the excess of Vegas and show business in general. He was playing himself and using him was cleverly rooted in the narrative. Here, there is barely a narrative, just a pallid retread job so that's really the only reason for him to be here. Gibson, on the other hand, would have been playing an actual part. That said, he might have been a good enough sport to play Mel Gibson - reduced to working as a tattoo artist in Bangkok after his numerous falls from grace. Chances are, though, nobody on this team thought about doing that. They just reacted in a knee-jerk fashion to another of Mel's rants and dumped him. Keeping the rapist was fine though.
This, of course, speaks volumes about the kind of foul, indecent and duplicitous thinking that went into the making of this film. I'm the first to defend political incorrectness when it's funny and has some sort of point beyond indulging in a few cheap laughs. Lots of cheap laughs might have been slightly preferable, but that's not the case here. It's a bad movie - period. That's certainly not worth defending. Accepting the above hypocrisy of dumping Gibson, but keeping a "good-natured" rapist in the film is indefensible to the extreme.
My hope would be that any future sequel might actually have a story for the characters from the first film and that anything that happened here could just be ignored.
I'm not going to hold my breath.
The Hangover Part II is currently in wide release through Warner Brothers.