This Week’s Popcorn – ‘The Hangover Part II’

Not enough is enough

2 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Had director Todd Phillips’s “The Hangover Part II” come first, it’s doubtful there would have been financial incentive for the original “Hangover” – if you follow my absurd logic.

Thus, continuing in that vein, it’s a good thing they got the order right. While the initial bawdy farce was full strength eau de comedy, this follow-up is just toilet water.

Of course it’s no surprise – save for very few exceptions (i.e. “The Godfather Part II”) – that the sequel is never equal to the original. Not unlike the sculpture of a great new car design, subsequent updates fruitlessly attempt to gild the lily. And, because we tend to embrace as friends the movies we like, these substandard interlopers add insult to injury.

I can just imagine viewers at cinemas throughout the land this week grimacing at the screen and, in a variation of the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s indignation, declaring, “Don’t tell me you’re like ‘The Hangover.’ I saw ‘The Hangover.’ And you’re no ‘Hangover.’” Still, once you concede the no-win situation, “Part II” is only half bad.

While unnecessarily a tad more serious and certainly missing the surprise impact that results when a boldly inventive work flies right off the fat end of the bat, the tone and idea are there, as are the familiar characters. This time, Stu, the buttoned-down dentist (Ed Helms), is getting wed in Thailand. And of course he doesn’t want a bachelor party.

Thus the lesson here is to be careful what you don’t wish for, especially if you have screwy friends. Suffice it to note that, following a get together of the pals and what they think will be just a couple of beers, the crew once again finds themselves piecing together the trail of destruction and mayhem their most recent, drug-induced reverie has wrought.

While there are several laughs and a few new mechanisms – such as a monkey they accidentally acquire from Russian drug dealers – the deductive formula once again employed is more arduous than surprising. Yet gee, simply as a nod to our intelligence, it’d be nice if the boys didn’t consistently remind, “Oh, no, it’s happening again!”

Emitting said war cry along with Stu is Bradley Cooper as Phil, the fairly unflappable, tacitly acknowledged leader; Zach Galifianakis as Alan, the loose cannon; and Justin Bartha’s Doug, who hardly figures in this plot. Quick to take up the slack is Ken Jeong’s international criminal, Mr. Chow, again the outsider who invites himself to the party.

But because the hijinks they involve themselves in wouldn’t be as discomfiting without an innocent victim, along for the ride this go-round is Mason Lee as Teddy, brother of the bride-to-be, gifted cellist, Stanford medical student and favorite son. Gosh, it would be horrible if something happened to him. The future father-in-law already hates Stu as it is.

So what you basically have here is another opportunity to vicariously experience a lot of bad behavior with that fictitious old gang of yours. Hold your breath as your celluloid compatriots break laws in foreboding landscapes, uncontrollably imbibe controlled substances, have bizarre sexual experiences and narrowly escape death. You know, fun.

But while it’s like hearing the same joke, only not told as well, that’s beside the point for folks who see this franchise more as an antisocial elixir than entertainment. After all, there’s only so much aggression to be exuded by passing cars on the right, not holding doors for people, and cutting into lines. That doesn’t really show your disdain for society – whereas, in our service, these otherwise respectable members of the community get to thumb their noses at convention without paying the wages of sin. Oh, just to make it exciting, it’s always a close call and there can’t help but be some collateral damage along the way. Fact is, one unexplainably curious misfortune is certain to lodge in most craws.

However, that’s little price to pay if you seek outlandish dispensation from political correctness, including, but not limited to, taboo word usage and making fun of the mentally ill. Doubtless, Mr. Galifianakis’s Alan suffers from a host of psychoses we’d dare not laugh at in real life. But, in film form, well, “Aw, he’s just nuts … ha, ha, ha.”

Perhaps making up for it a tad, Alan is also crazy as a fox and, on odd occasion, the surprise hero and/or spiritual voice of the gang. Still, the film can be likened to a little kid who learns a curse word. The first time he says it, we laugh. After the second blurting, which is essentially “The Hangover Part II,” we don’t want to encourage a “Part III.”

“The Hangover Part II,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Todd Phillips and stars Bradley Cooper, Alan Galifianakis and Ed Helms. Running time: 102 minutes