Thursday, June 2, 2011

Squalor: The Hangover Part II

In a rare occurrence brought to you by the holiday weekend, M. and I actually viewed The Hangover part II together.  Consequently, the discussion in the wake of this screening has run the gamut and while we've had a surplus of conversations on the matter, one of us is just now getting around to writing about it.  The facts are these: we both laughed during the flick.  Honestly, we laughed a pretty reasonable amount.  If that's all you need to know, then off with you.  There you have it: this is a comedy that succeeds (in points) at being a comedy.  Don't kid yourself.  If you enjoyed the first film at all, you're going to watch this sequel.  That's just how it is.  The thing is, however, that as with most comedy sequels: you're going to get exactly what you thought you were paying for, and then probably be a little disappointed when it comes with nothing else.    
If you're primed and ready for the back and forth chronicling of The Hangover's miscarriages and merits, continue on.  M. and I considered going the extra mile and making an infographic, but we both have this thing called 'work' that happens between weekends.  Anyhow, I would warn you and write that there will be spoilers ahead, but honestly, I can't say anything that would surprise you.  Here's what you need to know:  The Hangover part II is a carbon copy of The Hangover.  They're almost identical right down to the progression of mishaps that makes up their shared DNA: call the bride, serious music, wedding party, drugged night, no memory, wake up scene, realization that someone is missing, retracing of steps, weird cameo, criminals, sex workers, tiny passenger, Ed Helms singing a song in the midst of things, doctor visit, oops, guess what happened?,  oh, hey guys, let's promise to delete these pictures after we look at them.  Why?  Because that's what The Hangover is.  What the sequel offers as a difference is an upped ante and a location change.  We're in Bangkok, bitches.  If we disappear for a day, it's too late, the city has us.  What happens in Bangkok really does stay in Bangkok, and if you screw up too much, you may stay too.

A mutual friend of ours said, cleverly, that while watching Part II, he often felt as though he were watching a darkly funny episode of "Without a Trace."  Yep, that's the other problem.  In spite of the shootouts and kidnappings, the original film succeeded in part because the danger was somehow kept at bay.  Perhaps it's because Vegas is oddly contained, perhaps because the pure absurdity of the situations allowed it to remain that way.  In Bangkok, the proverbial shit gets real.  This time, when the Wolfpack (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis) gather for Stu's destination wedding, they put more than their own lives on the line.  After losing track of Stu's fiance's 16-year old brother, the boys run through situation after situation, with the consequences becoming dire.  Body parts are lost, body parts are found, we find ourselves laughing at the nastiest bits of raunch and rolling with the punches as we cross our fingers that this one actually does possess a happy ending.  While the patterns are repeated, they're often uncomfortably so.  The beauty of The Hangover was that it was (in spite of a good amount of typical crudity) still the sort of movie your parents would probably laugh at.  This one isn't that.  This one has a mean streak, a sadistic tendency, and, seemingly, a reluctant hatred of its characters.  Stu is punished repeatedly without reason.  Phil (Cooper) is painted as an even more vapid asshole than the first time around (where his narcissism was oddly endearing).  Alan?  Well, Alan is Alan.  Galifianakis again steals all his scenes.  His comic timing is brilliant, he gets the best lines, and he seems to know exactly where to stand in each arrangement.  This time, though, he does so with an unnerving grin, a shaved head, and sunglasses that seem to belie his every intention. 
There are flickers of the first film's genius here and there.  Midway through the film, as the boys attempt traditional meditation to unlock their memories, we're gifted with a spectacular sequence in which Alan envisions himself and the other characters as adolescents.  It's hilarious, and manages to make clear everything at work in Alan's twisted psyche.  The best way of looking at The Hangover Part II is perhaps to imagine it as one big wet dream of Alan's made real.  You do have to wonder if this isn't one big joke, something that pushes the limits of awkward and tests the boundaries of what could feasibly be considered funny, all while feeding the audience a cocktail that's simultaneously exactly what they want (more of the same) and exactly what they don't want (too much of the same).  Are we getting a repetition because Todd Phillips wanted to cash in?  Or, are we getting a decently made postmodern pontification?  Both films are the way they are because Alan engineered them that way.  Alan is stuck in the past.  He's a child, still sees himself as a child, and lives for that night in Vegas.  Bangkok, then, can only be just like Vegas. If you think about it, that's all it ever could be.  The question is: can finding absurdity in exact repetition actually make for a successful sequel?  I'm not so sure...


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