Monday Movie: The Hangover Part II, by David Bax
Todd Phillips’ The Hangover Part II is particularly reviled, even by the low standards of a sequel to a studio comedy. Most of the complaints riff on some variation of, “It’s the same plot with lazier jokes.” For the most part, that’s true. But if you look past the surface, you’ll see how, in terms of aesthetic and tone, the film actually represents a huge leap forward for Phillips as an auteur. Even the name, with its riff on the structure of The Godfather sequels’ titles, is a hint that Phillips is being a more serious filmmaker (while simultaneously poking fun at the idea of taking this film seriously). A director being allowed to tell the same story again with a bigger budget and more freedom is nothing new. In a way, The Hangover Part II is Todd Phillips’ Evil Dead II.
Phillips may have established a reputation for bro-friendly comedies like this series, Old School and Road Trip but he’s still the guy who made the definitive documentary about GG Allin. Those strains of anarchy and happily cruel nihilism flower in Part II in ways he likely wouldn’t have gotten away with before the success of the original. With career-best work from series cinematographer Lawrence Sher, he creates a filthy and tourist-unfriendly version of Bangkok, where life takes place outside the rules of decency and good taste and below the radar of contemporary morals. It’s not very politically correct or respectful but that’s by design. Phillips is daring you to be upset by his stupid comedy, where severed fingers and murdered monkeys are played for laughs and one of the main comic set-pieces involves a pig carcass getting splattered in Ed Helms’ face. In the jokey photo stills that accompany the end credit roll, we see Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong’s characters playfully recreate the famous photo of a Vietnamese public execution. Its pointlessly inflammatory but that very pointlessness is key to Phillips punk rock anti-ethos.
In the climactic scene, Helms’ Stu makes an impassioned speech wherein he comes to terms with his wild inner demons and insists that his future in-laws take him as he is. In a way, when he made The Hangover Part II, Phillips was doing the same.