Title: The Hangover: Part II
Year of Release: 2011
Date Viewed: May 26th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
In Jackie Chan's autobiography, a single sentence described the basic business model of China's film industry during the time he was working to break into it. It read (paraphrased) "If something works, you do it again." When Bruce Lee became the top box office draw at Hong Kong cinemas, every studio wanted to cash in by creating their own variations of the winning formula. Hero is trained in martial arts. Hero's family dies. Hero uses martial arts to beat the bad guys and avenge the family's death. Before anyone knew it, there were Fists of Fury clones everywhere on the market. Though we have yet to see our North American studios resort to that level of outrageous, they sure seem to be heading in that direction.
I am not against sequels in general. It's usually fun to see familiar characters encountering a different situation or the same situation with a different twist. And it can still count as creative work. I am however against the practice of greenlighting sequels without having a fresh idea to take with it. This happens because the studio is more concerned about maximizing revenue while the original idea is still fresh on the consumer's mind. Hollywood's number one priority is not producing fine art (though that often happens anyway) but to earn money. Sad but true. A sequel to The Hangover, the lightning in the bottle of 2009, should have surprised nobody. The original was not meant to have a continuing story but it raked in too much box office revenue to be left alone. Like all those Fists of Fury wannabes, The Hangover Part II has too much insecurity to be its own thing. By focusing too heavily on recreating the magic from the past, it dooms itself from becoming anything more than an exercise in self-plagirism.
Set a few years after the first story, the Wolfpack reunites for another bachelor party this time in celebration of Stu's (Ed Helms) wedding. With the past chaotic escapades still fresh on his mind, Stu takes no chances and limits the events to a casual brunch before traveling to Thailand to meet the in-laws. Following an awkward dinner with the bride's family, the gang coaxes Stu and his future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) into joining them for a campfire chat. They spend the night roasting marshmellows and enjoying what is probably one of the last few opportunities for all of them to be together.
The story fast forwards to the following morning. Stu, Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in a shanty Bangkok hotel room with another massive hangover and no memory of how they ended up there. Doug (Justin Bartha) is absent again but resting safely at the wedding location. Teddy however is nowhere in sight. Feeling responsible for the mess and curious to know how he received his new face tattoo, Stu refuses to return for the wedding until Teddy is found and brought back. The trio search the seedy streets of Bangkok, finding some new and familiar friends while running from new enemies along the way. And then.....there is nothing left to talk about. If you've seen The Hangover Part One, the rest can be easily predicted.
The lack of creativity here is astounding, even for Hollywood standards. I already covered just about every new idea, so what does that say? The location changed and a few characters are swapped but the sequence of events remain untouched as if someone was worried about ruining the recipe. But here's why more change was needed. A big part of the original movie's fun was in not being able to expect where the clues will lead to. Or how it all started. Or how close or far they were to finding their friend. I won't give away spoilers but there's really no point anyway. The Hangover Part II spoils itself by its unwillingness to bend even slightly for the sake of surprise. Not even Rain Man feared change this much and he was a......you know what.
Here's what else we know. A prostitute is involved somehow. Alan will have a new small sized sidekick to play around with. A kidnapping and ransom plot will be thrown in. Teddy will not be found until Phil makes that confessing phone call and Stu reaches that epiphany. Mister Chow and Mike Tyson will show up because it's too small of a world for new gangsters and celebrity cameos. Stu will write another song. Do you still want to see this movie? If not, don't blame me. Those are not spoilers. They have all been revealed through trailers, promotional interviews and the opening scene. In other words, they want you to learn those things so you'll feel comfortable knowing that it's a risk-free movie. By the time I realized there were no more surprises, I was begging for someone to take chance with anything. Make Stu an alien. I don't care. Just try something. And there is absolutely no reason for Doug to once again disappear for half of the movie. Why not seize the opportunity to develop his character a little more? It would have been interesting to see how his personality reacts to being lost or watch him lose his wit's end over Alan's antics.
If there's one thing that's immune to staleness, it has to be the lead actors. The chemistry between them is still very strong. And though the cards dealt to them are largely poor, each one contributes in keeping this watchable. Zach Galifinakis' strongest talent still seems to be acting like a child trapped in an adult's body. The "stay-at-home son" scene with his mother is worthy of a few laughs. Ed Helms is superb as the square guy gradually losing his sanity. I think the only way a third film could be convincing is if he starts hanging out with a new circle of friends only to find out they are just as crazy as his old circle. After this incident, I would have retired from the Wolfpack. Bradley Cooper doesn't have any memorable moments but his screen charisma is necessary for keeping things moving.
As my role models always say, it's better to try and fail than to not try at all. The Hangover Part II is one of the laziest efforts in storytelling beyond what could even be imagined. Thus it deserves no commendation. Unless I've got it all wrong and the producers were simply giving what they thought the fans wanted to see. In that case, it's our fault for not demanding more.