Wednesday, 25 May 2011
'The Hangover: Part II' review:
No film in recent years has made me quite as paranoid as 2009's 'The Hangover'. Everyone said it was hilarious - and I do mean everyone, as it went on to make half a billion dollars at the box office. Yet it just left me wondering whether I had suffered some massive sense of humour failure. "Why don't I get this?" was my bewildered refrain. Why didn't I find it brilliant when convicted rapist Mike Tyson sang a Phil Collins song? Why didn't I laugh at the funny Asian man who kept calling everyone "niggers" and going on about his "ewektions" - resembling a sort of live action version of the Kim Jong-il puppet from 'Team America'? I have no idea, but I'm told it was the best comedy ever made.
'The Hangover' had a few things going for it though: its premise, that a bunch of guys can't remember what they got up to the night before because they were totally wasted, seemed fairly original at the time (even if it was really just an up-market re-hash of 'Dude, Where's My Car?') and the presence of then-obscure funnyman Zach Galifianakis was joyful. Galifianakis is one of those comedians whose every mannerism and utterance is funny irrespective of the material and 'The Hangover' reaped the rewards of his charming naive-innocent act wholesale. However, these two redeeming qualities are largely absent from its sequel, 'The Hangover: Part II', with the film a scene-for-scene remake of the original (the tiger has been replaced by a monkey) and with Galifianakis long since over-exposed.
One of the sequel's main problems is with pacing. It takes an age for director Todd Phillips and his writers to contrive a way for all the conditions to be exactly the same as last time, with Bangkok standing in for Vegas. The guy who was missing in the first film, Doug (Justin Bartha), must again be absent from their escapades - though not before he's convinced soon to be married Stu (Ed Helms) to invite his deranged brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) to Thailand for the wedding. Phil (Bradley Cooper), of course, completes the "wolf pack" trio along with Alan and Stu. However, after going out for one beer, the trio wake up the day before the wedding only to find "it's happened again!" This time they have lost Stu's future bother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) and must retread their crazy, debauched trail looking for clues to find the kid - all in time for the big day. Every step of the journey is much the same as last time, with Mike Tyson returning and, yes, singing us a song.
As with the original, the funniest moments still belong to Galifianakis, such as when he shouts the unlikely line "when a monkey nibbles on a penis, it's funny in any language." That this is the comic highpoint should probably set alarm bells ringing, but at least he always looks funny, whether he is frowning at his new primate buddy or simply wearing a big hat. But 'The Hangover: Part II' is seriously low on written jokes. Mostly it relies on a heady mixture of institutionalised racism, school-yard homophobia and the popular assumption that anything is funny if it involves drugs and alcohol. For instance, one of the characters (I won't spoil which) comes to realise that he was "fucked in the ass" by a Bangkok ladyboy. You have to find this event funny in itself because there really aren't any jokes around it. The man in question gets upset that he's had a willy inside him and everybody else laughs. "Ha ha", they cry, "he's had a willy inside him!" In this context the issue of the accidental homosexual act quickly overshadows the character's infidelity. He thought it was a lady prostitute!
This lack of any decent written dialogue leads to the criminal waste of Paul Giamatti, who turns up halfway through as an antagonist of sorts. Giamatti gets to shout and chew scenery, but he isn't given anything really funny or memorable to do. I don't care what anyone says: Paul Giamatti has the capacity to be much, much funnier than Mike Tyson and any film which doesn't assign him that comic value is committing a crime against humour. Instead the film is content for the Kim Jong-il marionette-alike (apparently an actual man called Ken Jeong) for return, so he can say "erection" over and over again in side-splittingly hilarious broken English. When Phillips and company really find themselves struggling for laughs they just cut to shots of the little monkey smoking a cigarette. I'm not immune to the inherent comedy charms of that image but, again, it's pretty cheap.
'The Hangover: Part II', like it's forbear, is certainly better shot and lit than a standard American comedy. Lawrence Sher's cinematography breaks from a conventional logic which dictates that everything in comedy must be bright and loud. Instead, it's a seedy, grimy looking film and its use of Bangkok as a setting is diverse and interesting. The soundtrack is also pretty decent, as you'd expect with Wes Anderson regular Randall Poster working as music supervisor. The film's use of Billy Joel is fun, starting with a huge 'Glass Houses' poster in Alan's room and followed by obscure tracks like 'The Downeaster Alexa', which are employed well. A comic highlight is when Ed Helms performs an acoustic cover of Joel's 'Allentown', changing the words to tell the story of the film. Phillips also shoots a car chase sequence with considerable dynamism and no small amount of flair, though the very inclusion of this scene represents an increase in budget which will ensure that this sequel can't hope to repeat the vast profitability of the original. Especially when the ubiquitous marketing campaign is factored in.
If any of the humorous elements I've casually dismissed above sound good to you, then we can just chalk this up as another sense of humour failure on my part. I'm certainly willing to concede that just don't "get" this film. Maybe I just don't find the word "semen" funny enough. As is so often the case, this sequel is the same again done less well. I'd wager even huge fans of the original will find themselves a little disappointed by a follow-up that lacks imagination as much as belly laughs.
'The Hangover: Part II' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is out everywhere from May 26th.