Tuesday, 31 May 2011

See You In Twenty Minutes: The Hangover Part II review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha
Running Time: 102 mins

How do you rate a movie which fails to be the comedy it promised, yet is fairly watchable when taken as something more serious? That's the dilemma here. Hangover Part II is only occasionally funny, and then in light chuckles rather than full gut-laughs, but as a mystery and guided tour of the most depraved corners of Bangkok, it's not exactly good, but at least is never boring.

Boring, to my mind, is the worst thing a movie can be. Hangover II is arguably just as lazy as Pirates of the Caribbean, rehashing wholesale the story and events from the acclaimed original, but crucially remains watchable and well-made throughout, where Pirates was exhaustingly dull and technically horrendous. I say this because I know that there continues to be a lot of anger at the critical mauling Pirates received, with some fans accusing reviewers of having an agenda against straightforward, fun summer movies. I gave the movie the score I did first and foremost because it failed in my eyes as a fun summer movie, and secondly because of the contempt it showed its audience through the third-rate production values and obvious compromises to keep the budget down. Hangover II will be seen by many as no less cynical, but I can see where it will find its fans and though it does an awful lot of recycling, never got the impression that it disrespected its audience (apart from a conclusion that sacrifices every shred of realism and character work to reach an unjustifiable happy ending) or wasn't at least aiming to be a better film than it turned out.
In the interests of fairness, I should point out that I've never seen the first movie, despite many people I know raving about it. After reading about how much the sequel borrowed from it, I checked the plot summary on Wikipedia to verify how much of the narrative was copy and pasted - the answer would appear to be almost all of it. Whether the comedy in each situation plays out in the same way, I can't tell you.

What I can say is that I frequently wondered whether Todd Phillips really wanted to make a comedy. I assume from the last Hangover's acclaim that he has made a successful stab at the genre in the past. My suspicion is that he was going for a movie whose laughs were not derived from traditional dialogue and sight gags, but situational instead. That would make sense, since the movie's basic premise of a group of guys waking up after an epic bender with no recollection of the night before needs to be grounded in a certain realism to be relatable. The line of thinking might be that removing the artifice of one-liners would make the characters' reactions and interactions more realistic, thus making it funnier when essentially normal guys find themselves caught up in ever more ridiculous trouble.

The problem is that the situations aren't all that funny. The guys wake up in a run-down hotel room, with most of the bride-to-be's straightlaced brother gone missing (his finger is preserved in an ice bucket), a chain-smoking monkey running around and the groom discovering a raw tattoo covering half his face. Following a series of clues, the gang piece together the nights events on their way through a monastery, a tattoo parlour owned by Nick Cassavetes, a wrecked night club, a strip joint and a gangster's high-rise.

But those locations' roles in the story are played so straight that it's often difficult to distinguish even what part of the situation is supposed to be amusing. Maybe the idea of four guys breaking into a peaceful monastery and running off with a monk? That's okay as a comedic idea, but not when relayed through retrospective exposition. The sight gags in the morning-after scene, when Stu discovers his tattoo for example, should get big laughs, but the character is played as being horrified and though the other two laugh a little, the tone is one of worry rather than comedic uproar. What happens to Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow (who is also in the room) gets a laugh, because it's the only time in the scene that anything seems played to reinforce the comedic value of the situation, rather than the despair of the main characters. Of those characters, only Alan seems to be played for laughs, but comes across as more unhelpful annoyance than endearing buffoon. Everything he says and does seems designed to annoy or put the gang in greater trouble, making it no wonder they show so little patience with him.

A brief boat trip where Stu signs a song about his difficulties over a plaintive guitar is one of the movie's funnier moments because while the characters are kept realistic (Alan doesn't say a word), we're reminded of the events surrounding them through a means playing up the humour. Just having over-the-top situations isn't enough if the characters are going to react to them in a serious manner and the director takes their anguish equally seriously. It's more difficult still if most of the details are only given to us through explanation. Occasionally we see brief clips of what happened the night before, including a photo montage over the end credits, which are not especially funny but are more enjoyable than hearing descriptions. Stu's discovery that he spent a night of debauchery with a well-endowed Thai ladyboy would have been much funnier with a well-timed reveal of a photo from the montage during the actual scene where the gang revisit the club. An audience's imagination can do a lot in comedy, but needs to be given a starting point.

If the straight-faced approach kills the laughs, it makes the movie curiously watchable as a semi-serious mystery. It might not be the case for those who have seen the first movie and would therefore be able to recognise the familiar story beats, but the slow piecing together of the outrageous night does hold the attention pretty well, especially when tied to the question of how the guys are going to resolve their many crises in time for the wedding, when new ones seem to be cropping up with every fresh lead.

Despite his inability to bring the funny, Todd Phillips proves himself to be a highly competent visual stylist. He gives each part of Bangkok a distinctive flavour, contrasting one setting against another to achieve a similar sense of discord to how his characters must be feeling. The contained squalour of the hotel room where the guys wake up is a startling contrast to the beautiful open beach where the night began; trashy nightclubs rub up against the serene beauty of a monastery; the gritty street corners of drug-dealing neighbourhoods transform into the affluent luxury of a gangster-owned skyscraper. Even a car chase is shot with greater clarity than most dedicated action movies, having the rare quality these days of being both fast-paced and easy to follow. It's a standout set-piece, but one which belongs in a different movie: the only hint of comedy is Stu getting splattered when the car hits a hanging pig at a food stand.

That feeling resounds throughout Hangover II - like its characters, it starts off aiming for one thing, then accidentally winds up doing something else entirely. Perhaps familiarity with these characters will make it funnier to see them playing out the same debacle a second time after Stu had gone to so much trouble to avoid it - although it struck me as odd that this movie should be called Part II, suggesting progression, when the movie's status as a relocated remake would make a traditional '2' seem more appropriate, in respect of this appearing to be a second dose of what went before. I don't know if my going in expecting a comedy and coming out having seen a passably engaging mystery makes it a bad movie for failing in its original intentions, or a decent one for accidentally making a passable stab at a different genre altogether. As confused as I was, I didn't dislike it and wasn't bored by it, which leaves it levelling out as appropriately forgettable. [ 5 ]


1 comment:

curro said...

I laughed a few times, but it wasn't nearly as good as the first movie, even though the story was the same. Nice review.