A Little Hair of the Dog that Bit Us, by Scott Nye
Weirdly, even though its cast has at best a tangential relationship to the show, The Hangover Part II feels more like a long Saturday Night Live sketch than most films based off of Saturday Night Live sketches. For as thin as those movies can be on plot, what really seems to distinguish a Saturday Night Live sketch more and more is overwhelming familiarity. The details of the jokes might be different, but the basic trajectory is always the same. And The Hangover Part II is stiflingly familiar. No attempt is made to hide it – in fact, much the dialogue emphasizes this fact – but in spite of some good, solid, well-earned laughs, it simply doesn’t have the spark that a good comedy needs.
Tell me if this sounds familiar – the film opens with Bradley Cooper on the phone, telling a woman that they’re not going to be able to make their friend’s wedding, that everything has gone wrong. We then cut back to see this odd assortment of friends (which also includes Zach Galafianakis, Ed Helms, and in a slightly more prominent role, Justin Bartha) assemble for their friend’s wedding, which they celebrate with a simple night out. That night turns into more than they bargained for, or so it seems – we only see them wake up the next day, completely unaware of whatever took place the night before. They have a few clues, and the rest of the film has them searching for a lost friend by piecing together the events of the night previous, while dealing with the ramifications – both internal and external – of their actions.
The weird thing is, the similarities get even more specific than that, and while I’ll still refrain from spelling it out for fear of the spoiler police, but suffice to say, you’ll be astonished at how unbelievably similar this film is to the first. That sounds fine on paper, especially if, like me, you loved The Hangover, but you slowly start to remember that part of what made that film great was its wild unpredictability, and the seeming willingness of its creative team to pull out every stop preventing it from making you laugh. By following the same roadmap, The Hangover Part II is all stops, or perhaps it’s just that we are better equipped to recognize them.
The other intangible holding it back is that the cast is not as fresh as they once were. The Hangover served as a huge breakthrough for Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and especially Zach Galifianakis. All three have now become household personas, and they’ve sort of become victims of their own success. Again, Galifianakis particularly feels the rub, and although what he is doing is frequently funny, there is very little excitement and even less surprise. And aside from taking some solid shots at some monks, Phil (Bradley Cooper) is much more reigned in this time around. When Alan (Galifianakis) does something unforgivable, he’s the first to let it slide. And it’s not that he’s grown as a person or anything; he just feels less present.
Stu (Helms) is the only one who really changes in any interesting way, as he really comes to terms with the dark side that has been revealed over their now two nights of forgotten debauchery. In the first, he pulled out his own tooth and married a prostitute, and in this…well, his face tattoo is all over the advertising, but let’s just say that’s not the worst of it. And there comes a point where he has to own up to the fact that he has a part of him that is a truly debased human being.
I’ve seen The Hangover Part II ravaged in many critical sectors, with the general dismissal that it’s “useless.” I wouldn’t go that far. The film is both the victim and the benefactor of the success of the first, but there are some really funny moments amidst the familiar structure, and the the as a whole is a lot weirder than the first. The Bangkok setting suits it – the Wolf Pack is way out of their element, and the setting helps to establish that early. Director Todd Phillips brings the same visual flair he brought to the first, cranking up the browns and yellows to make Bangkok feel like a dirty, sweaty, cramped, awful place. But ultimately, the been-there, done-that feel really is too pervasive to ignore, robbing the sequel of the original’s spontaneity and no-holds-barred insanity.