Thursday, June 9, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hangover Part II

THE HANGOVER PART II-- 3 STARS


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Hollywood works just like our lives do when using the expression "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  This review could talk about the "Summer of Sequels" again like the last review did for Kung Fu Panda 2.  Instead, the better explanation for getting into the Hangover franchise (and yes, before we even get into the new one, you can guarantee a third one is coming after Part II's record-breaking opening weekend at the box office) would be talking about formulas.

2009's The Hangover had a very specific formula in mind when, after character introductions and the scene is set, it fast-forwarded us to the aftermath of unseen shenanigans.  It (smartly) allowed our discovery of what happened to match that of characters that forgot, putting the audience on the same roller coaster of haze and surprise as them.  It worked two years ago to the tune of the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time.

Well, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  If you liked or loved the first Hangover for that formula, then you'll love the new one.  On the other hand, if you're looking for something new and original, you're going to be disappointed.  Even if The Hangover Part II is, in essence, a predictable mirror image of the first film, just in a new setting, doesn't make it any less funny or entertainingly over-the-top.

Two years after their escapade in Las Vegas, where the "Wolfpack" was born, we pick up with the lives of Stu, Phil, Doug, and Alan (Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zack Galifianakis, respectfully).  This time it's Stu's turn getting married.  His fiance, Lauren (a smoking hot and out-of-Stu's-league Jamie Chung of Sucker Punch) is having the wedding in her family's native country of Thailand.  Everyone is invited except Alan, until Stu is guilted into including him, making the reunion complete.

Once there, everything is going swimmingly until a few bottles of beer are clinked and a few marshmallows are roasted over a beach campfire.  The next thing they know, everyone but Doug and Lauren's little brother, Teddy (Mason Lee) wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel.  Joining them out of nowhere is Leslie Chow (the hilarious Ken Jeong) and a chain-smoking capuchin monkey.  Naturally, they have no idea how they got there, no idea where their missing buddies are, and no idea what happened since the night before.  They spend the next two days retracing their steps and following the clues, unraveling more and more shocking details.

Yup.  That sounds pretty familiar.  You were warned.  The copied template of the original does, undeniably, create a pretty large aura of predictability.  Once again, if you're looking for originality, go to a different show.  What isn't predictable are all of the wild things we find that our Wolfpack got into.  The where-did-they-come-up-with-that scenarios, while formulaic in design, are still shocking enough and funny enough to entertain an eager crowd that enjoyed the first film.  Put it this way.  Even though you may see a thing or two coming, you're still going to laugh.

The cast members, as expected, know their parts and play them well.  Bradley Cooper is still your initiative-sparking natural leader that will bring the girlfriends of the guys that really want to see this movie to the theaters.  Ed Helms still plays frazzled like no other, but is elevated to the lead here for sure.  Zack Galifianakis continues to push Alan's uncomfortable personality to new heights and Ken Jeong's Chow gets a big expanded role this time around.

If you're worried that The Hangover Part II could be more of a follow-up to director Todd Phillip's last film, Due Date (also with Galifianakis), where all of the funny parts of the movie are in the previews, than the original Hangover's complete surprises, rest assured.  The sequel delivers shocks, twists, cameos, and curveballs that you won't see coming and weren't advertised, by any means.  All in all, the movie is definitely a step behind Bridesmaids for best comedy of 2011 so far.  Like I said, the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra applies.  Then again, the promised Hangover III better at least attempt to do a little something new, or the "dead horses" they beat are going to be frustrated audience members.

LESSON #1: CONTROL WHO YOU INVITE TO YOUR WEDDING-- At first, because of what happened last time, Stu wanted no part of including Alan in his wedding and didn't invite him.  He knew what would happen and should have stuck to his guns to say no.  Just like last time, Alan is the root to all of the roadblocks and problems our characters must overcome.  All of us have that one (or more) loose relative or obligatory friend-of-a-friend that we don't like or don't really care for that we're always guilted into including.  Hey, it's your day, so put your foot down.  You need to choose the guess list, avoid the potential land mines, and surround yourself with the right people.

LESSON #2: THE ROLE OF A GROOMSMAN-- Much like the recent Bridesmaids does for the women's side, the Hangover series highlights what's right and wrong with the friends you choose to have a role in your wedding.  For all his leadership qualities, Phil is a guy you want in your corner, but not entirely on the straight and narrow.  Doug keeps a level head, naturally, but don't even get us started on Alan.  See Lesson #1.

LESSON #3: A WOLFPACK STICKS TOGETHER-- Lesson #1 and Lesson #2 aside, your true friends have each other's back and pull each other through adversity.  That is especially true if that adversity includes any or all of the following: wedding deadlines, crooked Chinese and Russian gangsters, drug use, memory loss, bachelor party debauchery, the dangers of urban Thailand, missing appendages and persons, various embarrassing decisions, and dozens unspeakable mistakes.  Such a "wolfpack" needs to stick together and make it through.  Even our guy Alan, as wayward as he is, has our groom's best interests at heart and would never leave a man behind.