Manchildren and ladyboys – The Hangover Part II review

The Hangover Part II – Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Upon leaving the screening of The Hangover Part II, a woman remarked, “I think you would’ve had to seen the first one to really get the jokes here.” I’d refine that further and suggest seeing the first one is getting the jokes here. Todd Phillips’ follow-up to his surprise 2009 box office sensation is a carbon copy of its predecessor, which may seem lazy, but on further reflection might be the most impressive and intricate beat-by-beat plot reconstruction ever seen in a movie sequel. But it’s probably just lazy. Everyone involved in the production is acting like a superstitious sportsman: unwilling to change a single ingredient in their process, just so they can replicate the exact sequence of events that led to their previous success. From celebrity cameos to artists on the soundtrack, the only people not returning from the first film are screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, replaced by Scot Armstrong and Craig Mazin. Still, Part II is about as funny as Part I, and Phillips knows how to make a comedy look cinematic (which is more than can be said for many other comic directors). Maybe there’s something to this superstition business after all.

Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) all return for another evening of unspeakable debauchery, followed by a memory-erasing hangover and a 48-hour dash to reconstruct the events that took place and subsequently sent their lives spiralling into disarray. Following their memorable (or should that be forgettable?) stint in Vegas, the trio reunites in Thailand for the wedding of Stu to Lauren (Jamie Chung). Although Stu – still “piecing together the fractures of his psyche” – wants only a Bachelor Brunch, he relents one evening by sharing a beachside beer with his buds, including the formerly-misplaced Doug (Justin Bartha) and Lauren’s brother Teddy (Mason Lee, a spitting image of Justin Bartha, if he were also Taiwanese). You know the drill. We next see them the following morning, where a dishevelled Phil, tattooed Stu and bald Alan wake up in a dirty Bangkok motel room filled with the unprintable remnants of their wild night out. Thankfully, Doug is safe. This time however, Teddy is missing, and they need to enter a world of drug dealers, violent monks, smoking monkeys, a naked Ken Jeong and amorous ladyboys to reclaim him before the nuptials.

I wasn’t the biggest champion of the first film, but I loved the cast (they’re just as great here) and admitted that “the laughs … come from the never-ending stream of surprises”. That sense of revelation is gone. The jokes still come think and fast, but not one is unexpected. We are instead left with just the characters to keep us entertained – each one more despicable than the last. Phil is a jerk of the jerkiest variety; the kind that can only get away with his jerkery because he’s so pretty. Alan, meanwhile, is a sociopath. There’s no getting around it. He is a sociopath. It seemed like Stu was the last bastion of good-naturedness in this wolfpack, but even he devolves into an animalistic sexual predator with a penchant for self-mutilation after taking one teensy muscle relaxer. Late in the film, he sternly tells Phil that he has “a demon” inside of him. And he’s being deadly serious about the untapped darkness within.  OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

I applauded Phillips’ last film, Due Date, for challenging its audience by presenting them with protagonists that are ultimately terrible human beings, but are self-aware to admit as much. He tries the same trick here, making his characters as heartless and inhuman as possible, almost to see if audiences will shower them with as much adulation as they did the first time around. Galifianakis, as a comedian and an actor, has taken this particular approach his entire career. He made an appearance in the Jay Roach comedy Dinner for Schmucks, which was similarly mean-spirited, but then condescended to chide the audience for laughing at its collection of eponymous losers. The Hangover Part II revels in its wickedness, and encourages viewers to do so as well. It’s kind of infectious. Just because you like it, doesn’t mean you have to feel good about it.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Hangover Part II is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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