Reviewed by James Owen
Here’s the dilemma for sequelmakers: Do you continue the same story line with the same characters and themes? This rarely works if the original isn’t conceived as part of a larger story. So, Todd Phillips, following up the neatly tied-together “The Hangover,” had to go the second route: basically remake the original but BIGGER, and by merit of that BIGGERNESS, being BETTER!
But what if the key to the original’s success is its thrills, or gags, or thrilling gags? Like “The Hangover”? When you re-do the same thrills and gags, they can’t generate the same reaction because those reactions themselves rely on surprise. Phillips had to come up with a new angle for the sequel to have any chance at success.
His strategy is to use the same set-up and most of the same material, but steer it around edgy and, frankly, dark turns. The Wolfpack (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifinakis) head overseas for Stu’s (Helms) wedding, only to find the ante raised in the bowels of the drug and sex world of Bangkok.
As with the original, the city itself is the star of the show. The most under-praised triumph of the original was its portrayal of Las Vegas: Phillips drags a drugged-out bachelor party out of the casinos and suites of Sin City, dumping it into the bright, desert sun. He spotlights the flea-bitten apartments, sparse hospitals, and florescent-tinged police stations the “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” ads don’t show you. The look of the film is jarring to the audience as it is for the characters trying to piece together the previous night’s debauchery.
Phillips doesn’t create the usual travelogue that befalls many American-abroad comedies. He films the dank alleyways and crouched hallways of Bangkok in a way that brings out a vivid, terrifying texture. The audience can smell the seediness; they can see the danger around every corner like trying to see the city through a microscope. Plenty will call the ugly depiction xenophobic, or even racist, but the cinematography services the tone of the film.
Which is fairly ugly in itself—far nastier than the original. Not only is The Wolfpack missing the bride’s brother, but he’s left a severed finger behind. They start a riot outside of a bar rather than just throwing a mattress off the roof. And the prostitute Helms’ character gets together with has one distinct difference from Heather Graham. And if you thought we got to see a lot of Ken Jeong naked in the first film, then wait until you see the camera lingers over him in “Part 2.”
“The Hangover 2” will push you to the edge of your sense of humor and your sense of proper decorum. But it lacks genuine shock because you immediately recognize the rhythm and the pattern of the original. Phillips telegraphs the gags, so you fill in the blanks moments before Jeong’s naked body flies out of a previously locked compartment. Forget about predictability sucking the fun out of the movie; we’re also deprived of the mystery element of “The Hangover 2”. The structure of the original was as fresh as the jokes and the audacious casting. But Phillips seems to go through the motions here, so even this very ingenious device also feels stale.
I am not in the business of second-guessing how you could improve upon a sequel to “The Hangover.” Phillips is certainly a good enough of a director to figure out the BEST way to do it. (The screenplay he cranked out with Scot Armstrong and Craig Mazin can be primarily blamed for this lazy cash grab). But when Galifinakis looks bored, you know the film’s in bad shape. When using a Danzig song to open your summer blockbuster is a simple retread, that’s toxic.