Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review Double Feature: The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover Part II (2011)

So last night, I watched The Hangover Part II again with James, Mary, and Mom. This morning, I rewatched the original film to see both how well it stood up and to have a reference for how the sequel compared. How were they? Read on...

The Hangover (2009)

Yup. This movie is still really damn funny. This may very well be my generation's American Pie, a raunchy, R-rated sex comedy that provides both enormous belly laughs and a lot of heart. Even knowing most of the punchlines in advance, this still made my day with both its physical comedy and the "what the hell will we find they've done next?" nature of the story. A lesser film would just have assholes suffering various indignities for us to laugh at, but this film actually gives these guys some redeeming value and, with it, give us some stakes, some reason to keep up with their journey of debauchery. The Hangover is one of the best comedies of the last several years, an unapologetic celebration of Las Vegas and everything that it represents.

A huge amount of what makes The Hangover work has to do with the three main characters, the "Wolf Pack". Alan (Zack Galifianakis) is a boorish man-child with zero social graces, Stu (Ed Helms) is a hen-pecked boyfriend too blinded by love to see how domineering and abusive his girlfriend Melissa is, and Philip (Bradley Cooper) is a jerk schoolteacher who takes his students' field trip money to fund the trip to Vegas. They head out with their soon-to-be-married friend Doug (Justin Bartha) to celebrate his bachelor party, and wake up the next day in a trashed hotel room with a baby, a tiger, no Doug, and no memory of what happened the previous night. Right away, we can't help but love these three guys. Not only are they played by very good actors with a great sense of comic timing, but their flaws are realistic things that serve to humanize them without making them totally unlikable. These aren't perfect people, but they still mean well, even if they have a funny way of showing it. Stu even receives some nice character development over the course of the story, his journey to Vegas giving him the backbone he needs to finally stand up to Melissa's abuse in a moment that will make you get up off your sofa and cheer him on.

Having those characters engaged in all manner of Vegas debauchery makes for a far better film than just sending a bunch of one-dimensional bros out. But even without them, the comedy here would still hold up. The main characters are put through everything you could ever imagine happening to someone on a Vegas bender, including a quickie wedding to a stripper (played by a very funny Heather Graham), run-ins with gangsters, getting tased by police, and all manner of dumb pranks, up to and including stealing Mike Tyson's pet tiger. The gags here are as varied as they are funny, and while, looking back, I did have to suspend disbelief about how they managed to make it through the night without getting arrested and/or hospitalized (let alone getting away with everything at the end), I didn't care about that when I was watching this. There were very, very few dull moments here, if any.

Score: 5 out of 5

A very funny movie that's a bit more intelligent than it looks, with an engaging cast of characters only making the jokes that much funnier. Even if you normally hate these sorts of "dude-bro" movies, this is one to watch.


And now for the sequel...

The Hangover Part II (2011)

I recall not liking The Hangover Part II as much as the original the first time I saw it, but I still found it to be an enjoyable, raunchy comedy about bad decisions. It largely recycles the first film's formula, which I found to be a bit lazy and a black mark against it, but the chemistry between Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis still worked, the jokes were still funny, and I still had a good time, so for the most part I was able to ignore that. Watching it again, even knowing most of the punchlines ahead of time, I laughed like hell at this movie, though I do hope that the third film (coming out a week from Friday) changes up the formula.

Just like the original, the three main characters are among the big reasons why this film works. Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis show once again why they make such a great comic team, their reactions to the city around them and the events of the previous night all making for engaging viewing. They're not as developed this time around, coming off as two-dimensional compared to the original, but given the development they received in the last film, I can forgive that. These guys are like old friends who we already know; there wasn't as much need to introduce them to us.

I have a harder time forgiving this film's plagairism of the original, though. The story is a flat copy of the original, and I don't mean that in the sense of "the two stories are similar." I mean that very literally. Almost every story beat from the original is copied and pasted into the new setting -- a character getting married (Doug in the first film, Stu in this one), the main characters getting lost in a city notorious for debauchery (Las Vegas/Bangkok), them looking for a missing member of their party (Doug/Teddy), them being accompanied by a small, cute creature (a baby/a monkey), Ken Jeong running around naked and bursting out of a cramped hiding space, a cameo by Mike Tyson, Stu delivering a rousing "the reason you suck" speech to a significant other at the end (his girlfriend/his future father-in-law), and more. The only difference is that all of the jokes have been jacked up on a budget more than twice that of the first. Whereas Stu found himself in a Vegas marriage to a call girl in the first film, here he finds that he had been violated by a Thai ladyboy. In the car chase, instead of having to drive with a tiger in the car, here they're being chased by gangsters. Stu got a tattoo instead of having his tooth pulled out. This recycling of the first film's plot all smacks of laziness, and it's not helped that the stakes feel lower here.

However, at the end of the day, the most important thing is whether or not the movie is still funny, and I have to say that I had a lot of big laughs during this one. The jokes rely less on embarrassing situations and more on shock value, like the aforementioned transvestite stripper and a monkey touching a guy's penis, but they did their job and shocked me. I doubt that this film will hold up as well on repeat viewings as the original did, but I still laughed quite hard here.

Score: 3 out of 5

If you enjoyed the original, you're probably gonna enjoy this one too. How much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much you forgive the film's copying and pasting of the original's story from Vegas to Bangkok, but it's still got fun characters and a lot of great gags.

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