When Todd Phillips made the surprise smash The Hangover in 2009, I understood its popularity. It wasn't a great movie, but it was at least original -- there wasn't another comedy like it. Well, now in 2011 we get The Hangover Part II, and the novelty is gone. There is another comedy like it. Exactly like it. It's called The Hangover.
I'll give Phillips this: he's upfront about what he's doing. The movie opens with Bradley Cooper (reprising his role as douchebag Phil) taking a phone call and flat out stating "It happened again." There's no attempt to bury the lede in The Hangover Part II, and if it can't be original, at least it can be self-aware about how much of a retread the whole thing is. Of course, that also makes it more cynical; there's a real feeling of laziness that hangs over the film -- the idea that "Hey, you guys liked all this stuff last time, here it is again with a few of the names and locations changed."
Sequels are, by their nature, repetitive -- they exist in an attempt to reproduce the successes of an earlier film. While I fully expected The Hangover Part II to repeat the characters and general spirit of the first movie, there's no excuse for just redoing every joke beat for beat. No one expects the movie to reinvent itself, but shouldn't some attempt have been made to distinguish Part II from the original Hangover? Why waste time with a copy when the original is sitting on the shelf?
You know the drill: a group of friends containing straight-laced dentist Stu (Ed Helms), douchey Phil (Cooper) and bizarre, almost alien Alan (comedian Zach Galifianakis, the breakout star of the first film) get together for a bachelor party and wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened the night before, forcing them to trace their steps and piece together their wild, out of control exploits. This time, it's Stu's bachelor party and the gang is in Bangkok searching for his future brother-in-law (in the first movie it was their friend Doug, who is relegated to a cameo this time out); otherwise, it's pretty much the exact same film. The last movie opened with a phone call and then flashed back to fill in how we got there? So does this one. Instead of having to deal with a baby, they have a monkey. Instead of Stu losing a tooth, he gets a face tattoo. Ed Helms plays a song on the piano in the first film about their predicament? He does it again here, too, only it's on the guitar. Remember the end credits sequence in the original, in which we finally got to see the snapshots from their crazy drunken night and find out what really happened? Yep, that's repeated here, too. There isn't a new joke to be found in Part II that we didn't already see two summers ago. Maybe that's fine for devotees of the original, who simply want more of the exact same thing. The rest of us will be experiencing some major deja vu, and not in a good way.
All of this could be more easily forgiven if the movie was just plain funnier. That's not to say it's completely lacking in laughs; in fact, the first 20 minutes or so is consistently strong, most likely because a) it's just different enough from the first film, with the characters actually seeming affected by what happened last time and trying to behave differently as a result, and b) it's the only real character stuff in the entire movie, before devolving into multiple variations on people screaming "What happened?" and "What's going on?" and "What do we do?" There was quite a bit of that in the original Hangover, too, but it was forgivable because, if for no other reason, it was the first time around for everyone -- the characters as well as the audience. None of the characters have changed, either, nor their relationships to one another (wouldn't it have been much more interesting to have everyone really like Galifianakis this time around? That's something we haven't seen before). Instead, all of the dynamics are the exact same even a second time around. For a comedy that works really hard to be edgy, the movie is incredibly safe.
There will be far worse comedies than The Hangover Part II released in 2011, but perhaps few that feel so unnecessary. If you're wanting to see the movie because you're curious about what happens to the characters you enjoyed so much in the first installment, don't bother. You already know the answer. You've seen it.
- The Hangover Part II is Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content and graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.
- Release Date: 5/26/11
- Running Time: 102 minutes