Friday, May 27, 2011

'The Hangover Part II': More Sex, More Drugs, Less Rock n Roll

Bangkok has them now, but Las Vegas never let them go. In 2009, director and co-writer Todd Phillips brought together a group of men who set out to act like boys on a bachelor party weekend in Sin City for The Hangover.

Starring still-rising stars Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and the slightly more established Ed Helms, the fallout of the bacchanal gone bad were funny and shocking. Cooper’s Phil was the lovable rogue and leader, Helms’ Stu the unraveling straight man, Galifianakis’ Alan the zany loose screw. The film made serious bank ($467 million) because it was a solid adult comedy, and a success with critics and audiences.

And so a sequel was made.

This time set in Thailand instead of Nevada, the wedding in The Hangover Part II is for Stu, not Justin Bartha’s Doug (who is still around but misses out on the action). Instead of sticking with his stripper wife Heather Graham from the first flick, Stu the dentist has found the perfect gal in Lauren (Jamie Chung, most recently from Sucker Punch) and goes to Thailand to meet her family and wed. Stu tries to be innocent and avoid the same Vegas trouble from before, but one beer with the guys leads to them waking up on the floor of a dingy Bangkok hotel without memories of the night before. Worse still, the 16-year-old brother-in-law Stu was supposed to be watching has gone missing.

And hijinks ensue. In fact, the same hijinks ensue as before, if punched up and raunchier. Instead of a missing groom, we get a missing minor. There’s a monkey instead of a baby and a face tattoo instead of a pulled tooth. In the even more exotic environs of Bangkok, there are more exotic versions of the criminals and mobsters audiences saw in 2009. If you loved the socially challenged savant performance of Galifianakis before, you’ll have a lot more of him now. And yes, you can even a new song from Stu - sorta.

Basically, The Hangover Part II is a louder, beat for beat retread of the original with less surprises; there’s more sex, more drugs but a lot less rock ’n’ roll. But the sequel isn’t a failure.

Ed Helms owns this movie with a performance that is at times quirky, nuanced, insane and unhinged. Stu is a good guy who wanted to be bad, then went very bad in Vegas, and now wants to be a good guy again. Meanwhile, he’s aware that he’s got a demon in him. He’s a dentist by day, but the uninhibited Stu lets his freak flag fly high. His scene in the Bangkok strip club when he discovers his activities of the previous night is the movie’s best.

As for the other performances, the filmmakers likely thought amping up the dosage of Alan would be a crowd pleaser, but Galifianakis becomes tiresome. He has his moments in the film but what made him such an absurd treat in the original is that he was still somewhat contained. This time, however, they’ve unleashed the actor and he overwhelms, taking Doug (intentionally) from the arena of an Asperger syndrome sufferer into that of an emerging psychopath with a heart of gold. The same goes for Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow. They are both fun actors to watch in the background and in small doses.

Bradley Cooper is still likable and charming as the cool guy captain of the team. He does his job, but the character of Phil is all talk. He’s a family man who enjoys a good bender, but remains relatively innocent throughout two films now. If there is a third Hangover, he'd be enjoyable as the target. How would The Fonz behave if he really screwed up bad?

The one character of the film that really stands out is Bangkok itself. The city on display means playground to some but squalor to many others. It’s sexy but unsavory, welcoming but repellent, dangerous but mysterious. Although the plot is pretty much the same, Phillips picked a good locale to move the action to.

Overall The Hangover Part II isn’t a bad film, it’s just that instead of good ol’ American-made Tobasco sauce, they kicked it up a bit with Thai Sriracha sauce. It is spicier perhaps, but not much of a change.