Theatrical Review: THE HANGOVER PART II

by: Kate Erbland
May 25th, 2011

Rating: 2.5/5

Writers: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong
Studio: Warner Bros.

Film critics may often decry the unoriginality of the sequel – familiar faces, familiar beats, familiar feelings – but THE HANGOVER PART II stands apart from its sequel brethren, if only because of how unimaginatively and plainly it cribs from its much funnier and much more original predecessor. THE HANGOVER may not have broken comedic barriers, but it stood as a funny film that appealed to a wide variety of filmgoers. Its follow-up will likely not find such a large audience, if only because it seeks to tell nearly the exact same story, beat for beat, that Todd Phillips’ 2009 surprise hit did, but with considerable more darkness and less mirth.

This time around, the Wolf Pack (Bradley Cooper's Phil, Ed Helms' Stu, Zach Galifianakis' Alan, and Justin Bartha's Doug) is traveling to Thailand for the wedding of Stu to Lauren (Jamie Chung). It’s not like this band is necessarily happy to be back together. We learn that, in the intervening two years since Doug’s marriage, Phil, Stu, and Doug have stayed close, but Alan has been pushed back into his lonely, bizarre existence as a homebound and spoiled idiot. None of this information comes to us thanks to the completely unnecessary expository section that kicks off the film that, despite its wearing length, doesn’t really tell us much. The important stuff is all iced over – that Stu is marrying someone we don’t know from the first film, that Phil has another kid, that Doug is soon to be a dad. For a pack of guys we, as the audience, are expected to care about, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong give us little to remind us why we should be endeared to such shiftless men.

The familiar beats of THE HANGOVER PART II hit without the charm or even the baseline fun of the first. The recycled moments start off with a wink, but that knowingness fades into uninspired retread very quickly. The boys go to Thailand, get drunk on the beach, and wake up the next morning remembering nothing – only shocked into awareness by the fact that they are missing one of their number and that there is a wedding on the horizon. Sound familiar? It is. Oh, boy, is it.

The script for THE HANGOVER PART II feels oddly as if someone had seen THE HANGOVER, liked it immensely, but wanted to see what that film would look like if it was set in Thailand and was miles more dark. The unsettling streak that has started to run through Phillips’ recent work is present here, but THE HANGOVER PART II keeps away from being as cruel as something like, say, DUE DATE. So many of the situations presented as riotously funny and off-the-wall in the film’s copious marketing materials play much more dark and dangerous within the actual context of the film. There are real consequences here, but Phillips tries to shine them on by whizzing between situations and characters, a weak attempt to recapture the madcap fun of the first film. Oddly enough, THE HANGOVER PART II, while hugely disappointing as a sequel to a new school comedic classic, occasionally works if it’s removed from its origin and viewed as a slightly sinister tale of peril and international misunderstanding.

Zach Galifianakis is, once again, the highlight of the film. His Alan is a repressed and regressed man-child who has been coddled within an inch of functionality. His dearest wish is to reunite with the Wolf Pack who, despite the supposed bonds formed in Vegas, have all but abandoned him and are never happy to see him. Equipped with one-liners that are both bizarre and strangely sage (upon entering a monastery, Alan asks, “what is this, some kind of P.F. Changs?”), Galifianakis provides the only real humor of the film. Cooper, Helms, and Ken Jeong reprise their roles without expanding on them in the slightest, thanks to an undercooked and underwritten script that gives them little new to do within the context of their established characters (and the film’s been-there, done-that plot).

One of best parts of the first HANGOVER was the quick flash ending that treated the audience (and the Wolf Pack) to a photographic glimpse at everything we missed from the night before. The clever wrap-up worked twofold – it connected some loose ends to hilarious effect, and it reminded us what a damn fine time we had connecting all those things. As fun as the night before looked, it was the day after we had just seen, and it was the day after we enjoyed. THE HANGOVER PART II employs the same gimmick – but this time around, the rouse only works to remind us of how little cohesion the preceding story had to the events of the previous night, and how much more fun that night looked in comparison.

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