The Hangover Part II
What is there to say about The Hangover Part II, other than to suggest you look up my review of the first film and replace “Vegas” with “Bangkok”? I didn’t laugh a whole lot at this grimier, darker sequel, but I found it consistently more interesting, visually and thematically, than the first. As before, dentist Stu (Ed Helms), regular-dude Phil (Bradley Cooper), and man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in a daze, with evidence of unspeakable bacchanalia strewn around them, and can’t remember what happened. As before, the movie is an act of memory retrieval, as the lads bounce around trying to piece everything together while searching for a lost member of their “wolf pack.” As before, the funniest part is the end credits, during which we view hilariously stark photos of the lost evening.
The first thing that interested me about The Hangover Part II is how much less sympathetic the leads are this time around, as if the filmmakers either presumed built-in audience fondness for the characters or wanted to punish the first film’s fans for that very fondness. Here, Alan isn’t just a mildly creepy case of arrested development — he’s a spoiled, entitled twit, and we may perceive, with a dab of compassion, how his rich family has basically kept him a child. But if the Hangover movies have a true hero, in terms of a character who actually has an arc, it’s Ed Helms’ Stu, who escaped his dreadful girlfriend in the first film and now anticipates his wedding to Thailand beauty Jamie Chung. Stu, though, late in the movie speaks of a “demon” inside him, and he’s not exactly wrong; or, rather, it’s a beast of willfulness usually kept in close check (not coincidentally, the post-debauch action kicks off with Johnny Cash intoning “The Beast in Me”).
Stu’s brother-in-law-to-be (Mason Lee, son of Ang Lee) goes missing, and Ken Jeong’s loopy Mr. Chow returns for more, both funnier and less threatening. Pre-release, there were mumbles about The Hangover Part II‘s potential racism, but aside from the mantra “Bangkok has him now,” suggesting a malign city swallowing up the unaware, the film doesn’t get into “yellow peril” stuff. (It does get into Thailand’s booming girls-with-something-extra trade, but that’s another can of worms, so to speak.) Jeong is the best thing in both movies; his Mr. Chow is so casually conversant with perversity the performance goes well beyond stereotype. Both films, actually, are well-acted, and the sequel finds the glory and the squalor in Thailand. It’s just that these films are limited by their R rating and their status as major motion pictures. Too much is riding on Hangover II for the filmmakers to try anything truly wild or disgusting.
In a few years, some enterprising film theorist will write a paper on the Hangover films and the Hostel films, both of which series transplant well-off Americans to dangerous ground. Both are essentially conservative at heart, as many comedies and horror films are. Both are bookends to each other, though there was never a Hostel Part III¹ and there will obviously be a Hangover III. I sort of prefer the Hostel films, which play for keeps; there’s really no outrageous mistake in either of the Hangover films that can’t be fixed. The guys spend the movie worrying about what they might’ve done, but it’s never anything genuinely shocking. Perhaps Hangover III will give this series, and the recent crop of “daring” comedies in general, a Viking funeral, pushing its characters and, by implication, its audience into true transgression. Somehow, though, I doubt it.
¹There is now. In my defense, I didn’t know about it when writing this.