'Hangover Part II' Induces Headaches
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The cast and crew members of this sequel who balked at the idea of Mel Gibson doing a comic cameo herein really had a lot of nerve, I must say. Because, honestly, although a movie can't commit actual physical assault on a viewer, aside from that, what "The Hangover Part II" ultimately stands for is only marginally less hateful than a good amount of the vitriol that Gibson's been caught spewing. Because it's not all that much of a stretch to see this film, like its predecessor, as a sour and ostensibly humorous fable of white male privilege withheld and then regained, and this film does an even worse job of disguising its resentment over the withholding part than the first one did.
I imagine that it sounds as if I'm overthinking this raucous male-centric comedy. You're free to blame me. I myself blame the comedy, which sacrifices plausibility, believability and empathy with anything that doesn't validate its lead characters' "Wolf Pack" mentality in the service of a smirkingly cynical attitude. Just how the schlubby, neurotic, weak-willed Stu (Ed Helms) wound up betrothed to an Asian woman who's both beautiful and highly together never gets explained, maybe because scripters Craig Mazin, Scott Armstrong and Todd Phillips (who's also directing again) kind of figured that the standard-issue answer "because deep down he's sweet" just wouldn't cut it.
In any event, engaged he is, and his best buddies, the ostensibly irrepressible Phil (Bradley Cooper) and rather more straight-arrowish (that is, dull) Doug (Justin Bartha) persuade Stu to ask weirdo man-child Alan, who kind of engineered all the trouble in the first film, to the Thailand-set wedding. A couple of plot gyrations to include the first film's manic kooky bad guy Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and a new "innocent" to lose -- Stu's genius-teen future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) -- and the stage is more or less set for a night to forget, as it were, and a missing-person mystery/disaster to solve.
Twists this time include a screeching smoking monkey that's a "highlight" of the film's trailer, a severed finger, an "outrageous" strip-club sight gag that this reviewer saw coming when it was announced that this sequel would be set in Thailand, or maybe even before that, a plot machination more or less lifted wholesale from crime writer Charles Willeford's underground classic "The Shark-Infested Custard," and more. Unless you are laughing, which depends on your sense of humor, it gets kind of wearing. And I have to confess: I wasn't laughing.
As with the first "Hangover," I just wasn't particularly amused by any of the jokes, or performances. (Except for that of Paul Giamatti, who shows up late in the movie and is such a nice, drolly menacing contrast to the hysteria displayed by nearly all the other players that he seems to have been imported from another movie entirely.) Which gave me the opportunity, alas, to think. To think about Alan, embodied by the comic Zach Galifianakis, who has, I have to say, made me laugh before. But not here. The wildly inappropriate Alan, who interrupts wedding toasts and acts beastly to Teddy because his presence breaks up his beloved "Wolf Pack," could be said represent a hungry id with the eyes of a child. In any event he's supposed to be simultaneously infuriating and endearing. I found him neither, because he just didn't register for me as anything like an actual person.
But during "Part II" it's easy to get the idea that the filmmakers actually don't find him particularly infuriating, in any event. As obnoxious and petulant and socially stunted as he is, the movie actually takes his side. As in, What's the deal with Stu's rich, stuck-up future father-in-law and his idea that Stu has all the qualities of weak rice in milky water? Don't they all get that Alan and company are going to get what they want, because he and his "Wolf Pack" are entitled to it, and also, because, damn it, Alan's dad's got money too? This is ultimately what "The Hangover Part II" wants its audience to cheer for. Alan may get his head shaved, Stu may get pig's blood spattered all over the new tattoo he can't remember asking for, and Phil's own hair may take a beating and go totally limp from all that Bangkok humidity (the filmmakers do contrive for dull Doug to sit out the blackout, and the post-blackout misadventures, once again), but these boys are gonna get their mojo back and keep swinging, don't you know.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.