I remember bragging to my friends back in 2009 that I was going to see the “little-known” comedy called The Hangover on its opening night, mostly because I had already heard some of the amazing buzz coming off the film’s advanced screening and thinking it could very well be the next huge hit. Apparently I have a great foresight for modern comedy classics (it’s totally like me to have a useless skill like that), as The Hangover (Part 1) was a colossal hit. It established new box office records for both live action comedies and the R-rated genre in general, and living in a guys’ dorm myself, I can assure it’s still gleefully quoted on a night-to-night basis. Now, The Hangover Part II (one of the funniest titles I’ve ever heard in my opinion) has landed in theaters, and to be honest, Todd Phillips didn’t even have to try here. Just put in the same cast, slap on a new location, and keep up the fantastic jokes that you know people will laugh themselves into tears with, and you’ve got another half-billion in the bank. I can’t say that Todd Phillips’ latest is the most profoundly original film I’ve ever witnessed, but being able to see arguably this summer’s biggest comedy hit first with a room full of other eager fans at 12:01 in the morning was a perfect setting for this immensely funny and infinitely amusing movie. The film takes place about 2 years after the original Hangover, with Doug still happily married and still afraid of rooftops, Phil still with his wife and with their new child, Allen still living with his parents at home and cherishing the memories from two years prior, and Stu now being the bachelor of the hour, arranged to be married in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite Stu’s stern precautions, after a bonfire and drinking night on the beach the guys wake up in a run-down slum in Bangkok with no idea where they are or where Stu’s future brother-in-law could be.
I would imagine finding leading men to take the comedic reins on your movies is a supremely tough task, but I think it’s one that Todd Phillips might just be one of the best at when it comes to consistency. Thanks to him the comedic brilliance that is Zach Galifianakis is as recognized as it is, and it’s been his pairing with Robert Downey Jr. in last year’s Due Date or his threesome with the remarkable Ed Helms and the suave Bradley Cooper that makes fans like myself feel better about making him an A-list director. Much like The Hangover Part 1, it’s this “modern day three stooges” that’s still one of the primary reasons this film works so well on a comedic level. They just play so well off of each other, their chemistry is unbeatable, and the fact that each one of the guys is just as funny as the other in different ways helps too. The underappreciated Ed Helms is a remarkable straight man as Stu, and his gross-out/freak-out reactions are still an uproarious staple of his character.Bradley Cooper, as an opposite to Zach’s far-left character, is calm and most importantly cool for the majority of the film just like last time, and allows his on-screen charm to carry him through. As I said earlier, it’s awesome that Galifianakis is getting the recognition he has been for this same role, and if you’ll watch any of his own stand-up bits on YouTube you’ll realize the guy has an incredibly sharp comedic mind. Just as you’d expect and much like last time, he’s the most bizarre character on screen and has most of the film’s best, most knee-slapping hilarious lines my hall mates will be citing well through August whenever school starts back. Ken Jeong as Chow also has a much larger part in this film than in Part One, which is a nice refresher from time to time popping into the story’s events without being annoying. Paul Giamatti even springs in about halfway through as a Russian crime boss, and while he doesn’t do particularly anything as interesting as he’s capable of, it’s still a fun bit. Being in Bangkok this time around, the film’s tone has also taken a much dimmer note. Instead of the barren deserts, brightly-lit and neon landscape that was Las Vegas last time around, Bangkok is a much filthier and grimier place, and we get to see this on every street corner, strip club and shipping port the guys visit. The buildings are filthy, the people are hostile, and it’s a rare sight that the Wolf Pack is in a building that doesn’t have electricity or more than 2 floors. It’s not exactly the most flattering portrayal of Asia, but the few shots that Phillips manages to get from the top of skyscrapers or a “P.F. Chang’s” monastery is a nice aesthetic touch. It’s great that Phillips seemed to want to raise the stakes and disparity of the situation just a little bit more by making it a more forlorn, dangerous and god-forsaken landscape, on top of the fact that no one speaks English. A lot of the greatest and funniest bits of the movie are also darker in spots. The 15 minutes we get before the gang gets to Thailand are pretty reminiscent of Hangover Part One even in joke tone, including a hilarious shot showing the jealousy between Allen and Stu’s new brother-in-law on the plane ride over. But after the beer bottles clink and we get the time lapse of the city over night just like in Part 1 as we know what’s to come, everything and I mean everything takes a turn for the worst, and by the worst I mean the funniest. The Hangover Part II pushes the boundary of “How far can we take this bit?” much farther than the original and ends up in some jaw-dropping places. Not to spoil any of the moments, but there’s a certain scene inside of a Bangkok strip club that you could almost tell by a rippling effect who discovered how that scene was going to end, and once that realization came it slowly sent laughter and shivers down our backs. It’s nowhere near unrecognizable compared to Part 1 (it’s still boys behaving badly through and through and for the most part it’s good clean drunken debauchery), you should know the film goes to some dark places in a few spots, pushing even its R rating. It’s interesting to also note that you could almost label The Hangover Part II as an action comedy. There are a handful of great action sequences in the film that are peppered in the trailer, greatly out-tailing the scope and action of the first film. There were a few spots that I felt like the new emphasis on action came at the expense of the humor, the ending credits clip show was a little bit disappointing, but there are still a slew of great laughs in this one, and the added action emphasis is appreciated, innovating on the comedy in a fun way. Plus it helps that Part II, much like Part One, is a genuinely funny film that’s only going to get funnier on repeated viewings, much like the first film, with expanded, yet still gut-bustingly hilarious set-ups for the Wolf Pack to overcome. I mentioned earlier that The Hangover Part II isn’t going to win any awards for originality, and I find that to be its biggest fault but also one of its best things about it. Much like the first film, The Hangover Part II has the same trio of guys waking up somewhere with no idea of what happened the night before. You could even argue that a lot of the plot elements are just duplicates, like how instead of a tiger there’s a monkey, instead of Chow there’s Paul Giamatti’s Russian gangster character, instead of a baby it’s a Thai monk, and so on. True, I think if Phillips had deviated from the formula just a little or tried something totally bold and crazy and made an entirely new format, we could have had an entirely new, fresh, and potentially amazing comedy, but these similarities that seem to really bother others with this film never really got to me. Sure, there were a few times in this one that I thought “Oh that thing’s like that thing from the original”, but it never got to the point where I thought I was being ripped off. Instead it became clear (at least to me) that Todd Phillips was patterning these new antics in a different, fresh way (and in many instances a darker way) that sometimes simply referenced the original in a demented, hilarious sort of way. In a lot of scenes it’s even part of the joke, and works to the joke’s benefit when both you and the character are thinking about the idea that they’ve already been through this torment. It’s almost like an inside joke between you and the Wolf Pack. Maybe that’s what I loved best about The Hangover Part II and what makes it better than the original in some regards, that it’s a loving work of fan service. They know what we love about these characters, and they give us more of it, polishing the bits that worked and tossing out the “dud” elements (however few there were) from the first film. Just like Part One, the movie opens with Phil calling Doug’s wife, telling her “we really screwed up this time, it’s bad”, and my midnight screening immediately burst into applause and tearful, anticipation-laced laughter. I love this movie, I love the wolf pack, and I’d be more than willing to see at least a half-dozen more hungover antics of this crew. And it doesn’t just rely on replicating the first film’s formula, it ratchets all the jokes to 11, widens the scale, pays homage to the things we love, gives us new things to love and new lines to quote, and tries its darn hardest to make sure each theater patron leaves satisfied. We know Phil, Stu, and Allen are screw-ups; it’s just great fun to see them again. The Hangover Part II, much like it’s wolf pack, is a real piece of work. I won’t be re-watching this movie months from now with friends because it’s the most original piece of comedic entertainment out there, but because it delivers and expands on what I love about this comedy series while pushing the envelope a little farther, daring to go there, and not being afraid to go the extra comedic mile. It’s a comedy I love waking up to.
4 out of 5