Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Review: "The Hangover Part II"
Perhaps inevitably, the sequel to "The Hangover," the surprise comedy smash of 2009, cannot quite live up to expectations. It's still plenty funny, and it's doubtful many fans of the original will walk out disappointed. Still, the novelty has worn thin.
The only thing that really distinguished the first film from any number of comedies about boys getting debauched and behaving badly was its clever narrative construction: They wake up after a wild night of pre-wedding partying with no memory of what happened, and have to piece together events based on clues.
More than one person has described it as "Bachelor Party" meets "Memento."
"Part II" is pretty much a repeat, with the action moved from Las Vegas to Bangkok. The same players are up for another round: Stu, the confidence-challenged dentist (Ed Helms) who's the bridegroom this time; Phil (Bradley Cooper), the hedonistic alpha male; and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the clueless man-child perpetually fascinated by a world that mystifies him.
The lost boy this time is Teddy (Mason Lee), the 16-year-old younger brother to Lauren (Jamie Chung), Stu's bride-to-be. The "Wolfpack" wakes up in a scummy Bangkok hotel to find Alan's head shaved bald, Stu's face freshly etched with the same tattoo on Mike Tyson's, and Teddy gone missing ... well, mostly missing.
Instead of a lost baby to serve as their mascot, there is a chain-smoking monkey and a wordless monk in a wheelchair. They've got until the next day to find Teddy and make the wedding in time.
Also popping up again is Chow, an Asian-American crime boss with very politically incorrect speech patterns and a nose for trouble. Actor Ken Jeong, who gave a rather revealing performance in the first film, raises his game to new, um, levels.
(I should point out that the movie's release was nearly scuttled by a lawsuit by the tattoo artist who inked Mike Tyson's face for copyright infringement. Fortunately, the justice system interrupted its trivial duties prosecuting rapists to lift the injunction.)
Director Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong, still has a few fresh tricks up his sleeve. The dialogue is sharp as ever -- Alan describes himself as "a stay-at-home son" -- and the repartee between the fellows is somehow simultaneously combative and brotherly.
Still, other sequences seem practically preordained. A visit to a local monastery is bound to lead to the boys being laid low by chop-socky. An excursion to a seedy strip club results in some uncomfortable revelations for Stu that halfway clever audience members will see coming a mile off. And Paul Giamatti is ill-used as a blustery gangster who's a lynchpin for the plot.
If it were to stand on its own, "The Hangover Part II" would register as a better-than-average smutty comedy. Despite a few slow patches, it is loaded with gut-busting laughs. After its much brainier predecessor, though, it feels like a well-meaning kid forced to follow in the footsteps of his genius older sibling.
3 stars out of four