I know the web has been a godsend for film culture. After all, Film Threat has thrived, thanks to its dot-com home since 1996. But I always hate coming across a critics’ average of a film I eagerly await – especially when I see it by accident. I came across an average of 33% for “The Hangover Part II” before I attended an advanced screening. I tried my best to forget it before going in. When I left the screening, I hadn’t forgotten the average, even if seriously affected by what I had seen. When the high had worn off, the 33% left me as confused as one of the characters awakening after his binge.
It seems that many critics demand 100% originality from a comedy series. But when do we ever get a deep revision in Part II of a comedy? “South Park” never turned things about-face. So did “Beavis and Butthead” return to familiar ground to use idiocy for laughs. I know animated comedy may be a stretch of a comparison. But the men of “The Hangover Part II” are also idiots, though ones we (at times) relate to.
Yes, “Part II” has the same structure as “Part I,” only now the boys are lost in Bangkok. But director Todd Phillips and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong refresh the fleeting moments of an all-night bender. Phillips wants us to feel like the drunk guy wedged between two others in a backseat, with the car seeming to whip by, even if it’s probably a beater doing 30 mph. Given out in little hits, the film’s morning-after recollections feel like those flashes of horror we’ve had as we thought, did I do that? (Maybe not all of us have memories like these, but note: this is the game in which “Part II” deals.)
Thinking up these scenes would be a breeze. But Phillips’ style is what’s so rewarding. In brief character flashbacks and cell phone video, the film reveals these moments as dirty little truths. A drunken chant from Helms is a sure laugh – but when we realize his character is leading a riot, a hit of terror turns the comedy into delirium. We have to acknowledge Phillips early pedigree making the believe-it-or-not documentaries “Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies” (1994) and “Frat House” (1998). He’d seen the dark side and had arrived to Hollywood with his head on (somewhat) straight. Hence, he can take us to the scum-covered worlds of mayhem and swing us right back in glee.
The three hungover thirtysomethings, of course, reflect the law of averages: Bradley Cooper, as Phil, is an everyman to whom we relate; Ed Helms’ Stu is a repressed goody-goody; and Zach Galifianakis’ Alan is the alien body of the group who, as we recall from Part I, can turn complacency into chaos. An innocent night on a Thai beach prior to Andy’s wedding leads to madness-cum-oblivion (pardon the pun-in-the-middle). The day-after is a shuffle of events with a goal in its woozy sights: basically, returning things to order. Only now, the little brother of Stu’s bride-to-be (Mason Lee, son of Ang) is lost. The night out will leave this kid scarred – and I’m talking far worse than Helm’s much-publicized Tyson-tattoo.
If you’re demanding that “Part II” top the first, then you will be pleased. Phillips indulges in gross-out bits to the extreme, including creepy male and she-male frontal. We don’t know what’s more bizarre: Phillips’ sensibility, or how he avoided an NC-17. We profit (mostly) unscathed.