The Quandary of Comedy Sequels
A Film Review of The Hangover Part II
By: Lawrence Napoli
I’ve spoken to many people who have seen the sequel to the film many regard as the funniest comedy since Anchorman, namely: The Hangover. Curiously, I have noticed that the vast majority found The Hangover Part II to be disappointing as a result of one glaringly common complaint: “It is the same exact movie, but in a different country.” I laugh at these people on the inside for deducing what amounts to be the most obscenely obvious observation this side of “water is wet” and “fire is hot.” “No duh!” I say to thee! No duh, because this has only been Hollywood’s MO since forever and it continues to do so because guess what? We all love it. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some successful comedy franchises:
Beverly Hills Cop (1984): huge success, catapults Eddie Murphy to super-stardom – Beverly Hills Cop II: SAME EXACT MOVIE grosses $300 million 3 years later in 1987. Rush Hour (1998): massive success by combining Chan’s martial prowess with Tucker’s trash talking nonsense – Rush Hour 2: SAME EXACT MOVIE grosses $350 million 3 years later in 2001. Meet the Parents (2000): who knew DeNiro still playing the tough guy could be a comic genius by making Ben Stiller’s life a living hell? Meet the Fockers: SAME EXACT MOVIE grosses $517 million 4 years later in 2004. What’s more interesting about all three examples is that they went on to become trilogies with no hope of further expansion because the third films tanked at the box office. Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) was missing a few actors from the original cast and had Axel Foley dropping F-bombs not on the mean streets of Beverly Hills, but in a Disneyland knock-off amusement park: Wonder World. Rush Hour 3 (2007) introduced the world to the concept that the Asian mafia (Triads, Yakuza, whatever) apparently had a home away from Asia: Paris, France. Little Fockers (2010) . . . well . . . it just plain sucked. These films were all terrible because they strayed too far from what made their franchises great and it showed because no one paid to see them.
So don’t cry to me, Mr. or Miss “OMG-the-latest-raunchy-comedy-showcasing-all-manner-of-penis-on-the-screen-is-the-best-thing-ever!” A crime has not been committed to your formerly “original” comedy because instead of penis, the filmmakers substituted boobies in the sequel. It wasn’t original in the first place! People like their private parts and poop jokes in the same manner they were originally presented, which brings us full circle to The Hangover. Yes, it was funny. Yes, it was a massive financial success. And no, it will never be considered a great example of comedy on film because it is a compilation of hundreds of comedies before it. As we fast-forward to The Hangover Part II, the acolytes of Cooper, Galifianakis and that guy from The Office are so distraught because they were all expecting a RE, re-invention of the wheel when it comes to funny movies. While someone like me sees a familiar and overly simplistic story, another exceptional performance by Fat Jesus and more Mr. Chow and cannot help but be thoroughly entertained by the utter insanity that results from a bunch of intoxicated white guys struggling with short term memory loss. So I’m calling out all the haters of The Hangover Part II. You all thought the first film was funnier than it actually was, and are so disappointed in the sequel, that you fail to recognize the faster pace, higher stakes, bigger stunts and (I will say again) MORE MR. CHOW!
As for the review itself, one must begin with restating and reaffirming the obvious in that The Hangover Part II is indeed a virtual and detail-to-detail reproduction of The Hangover with only circumstantial differences and an acknowledgement of the events that transpired in the first film to allow this one to be classified as a sequel. For such an unapologetically transparent ambition, one wonders why 5 writers are credited: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore for creating the characters and Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and (director) Todd Phillips for creating the screenplay. Well, when your filmography consists of comedy classics like Scary Movie 3 and 4, Superhero Movie, Road Trip, and School for Scoundrels you take any and all available help. That being said, the creative staff must have come to some realizations about the plot logistics for a sequel to The Hangover and the guys getting wasted, and then somehow coming up with the cure to Cancer just wasn’t going to cut it. Therefore, the concept of escalation was called upon to refine the original formula. The level of danger and comedic culture shock was increased tenfold as a result of setting the film in the foreign land of Southeast Asia. The familiarity of the main characters with each other and their past provides an opportunity for scenes to develop and transition quickly. Unfortunately, this familiarity backfires often because much of the gags and jokes play off the fiction established in the first Hangover. This doesn’t hurt the comedy of The Hangover Part II specifically, but fans of the first will be doing a fair share of eye rolling. The viewer will not be surprised by much of this film (although the final twist was somewhat unexpected), but the steady stream of amusement allows for the time to pass pleasantly.
This film is really about one thing and one thing only: Zach Galifianakis. His performance as Alan is the focal point for the brilliance of awkwardly placed and completely inappropriate humor. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Bradley Cooper or Ed Helms received a higher billing than Zach beyond shear popularity, because they simply pale in comparison. That’s not to say that the rest of “The Wolfpack’s” performance was bad, but neither was not meant to be the comedic engine. Cooper is supposed to be the pretty boy who curses a lot and leads the group on their investigative, back-tracking journey. Helms is supposed to be the dork who has the most vile things happen to him and completely loses all sense of composure every 5 minutes. Galifianakis makes their performances funny by over-emphasizing his own character’s ineptness and absurdity. This interplay reproduces the natural chemistry that developed in the first film for this unlikely grouping of actors in quite a satisfying way. The audience wants them to succeed, but prefers them to fail because more failure leads to more laughs and even more ridiculous color commentary by Galifianakis.
The second best aspect of The Hangover Part II is the larger role that Mr. Chow, masterfully played by Ken Jeong, has in the story. His brief appearance in the first Hangover has spawned a recurring role in the TV show Community and insanely popular commercial campaigns for Pepto Bismol and Adidas sneakers featuring Slim Chin, “the beast from the far east.” Although his stereotypically Asian-charged performance is not the same approach to comedy as Galifianakis, Jeong is certainly following in Fat Jesus’ footsteps by embracing his “character-actor” status. Since the setting in The Hangover Part II is Bangkok, Mr. Chow is in his most comfortable element and steals every scene Galifianakis doesn’t happen to have lines in. Sure, stereotypes and their glorification set us back as a society, but realizing those performances as exactly what they are: amusingly meaningless; allows intelligent people to compartmentalize racism and disallow it from impacting how responsible people behave.
The Hangover Part II is a raunchy comedy that is unashamed of being a carbon copy of its predecessor, but succeeds in doing exactly what it was meant to do: make you laugh. The viewer would do well to scale back on his or her expectations regarding this sequel because the nature of comedy is not evolution, but de-evolution. Soon enough we will be privy to feature length films that involve a stark naked Galifianakis pacing from one end of the screen to another with a propensity for random defecation because his brain is being controlled by one of those organ-grinder monkeys resting on his head. When that day comes, I will officially designate comedy sequels as mind rot. Until then, you would all do well to fully expect a third Hangover film in about 3 years because this sequel was a success. Also expect the third film to be absolutely terrible.