Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
And so goes the trouble with sequels to movies that take audiences by surprise. Magic in a bottle can only happen once per bottle.
However… I really enjoyed The Hangover, Part II. It did what a good sequel (not to be confused with a multi-part story) is supposed to do. It takes you back on the journey you enjoyed the first time, it adds some new stops along the way, and it leaves you feeling like a part of its dysfunctional family.
In this case, we’re talking about a first-film that was a house of mirrors, doing what great comedy does… surprising you into laughs over and over and over again… but also, somehow, lingering with the audience. How does this film give you exactly what you expect, but somehow make it seem fresh? I can’t really deconstruct it that much based on one viewing. What I do know is that there is a wedding, again… a bride to disappoint, again… a male red-herring, again… bursts of shocking & funny sex and violence, again… Ed Helms’ Stu growing himself a bigger pair, again… Ken Jeong stealing scenes, again…
For me, there are a couple of significant differences. There is a more complicated role for Zach Galifianakis, as Alan becomes a more active part of The Wolfpack, and thus, the movie. The other change is that there is an odd confidence in our trio that wasn’t in the first film. They have been here. They know they can get to the end. And in response, Todd Phillips & Craig Mazin & Scot Armstrong are meaner to them in this film, to make up for the slack. And there’s a monkey.
There is also more size to this film than the original. Is that important? Not? Your call. But it is a slicker piece of filmmaking, as Due Date was slicker than Hangover 1. Phillips is doing a better job behind the camera.
I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of The Hangover. I laughed. I enjoyed it. But it was so loaded with events that after a while, it felt a bit stuck together, moving fast enough never to have its logic questioned. Parts of it, like the sequence going to Tyson’s home, were a bit of a mess. But the punchlines (literal and figurative) kept it going. And the film became a guy version of the fem-culty Sex & The City, as people (male and female) identified with what happens in Vegas taken to the extreme.
The boys are back. Happy to see them. And happy that the filmmakers didn’t overreach. Most sequels do. They are trying, same as this, to reproduce that feeling that made the first film a hit, but try to force in some major variation on the theme. Not this one. (There is a helicopter that there is no need for… but a minor indulgence, given how wild Phillips could have gone after a near-$500m worldwide gross last time out.)
For instance, the missing man, the bride’s brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), is as disposable as Justin Bartha’s Doug was on the first go round (and here too). They didn’t try to integrate Doug into The Wolfpack. Nor did they make Teddy any more of a character than Doug was in Vegas.
On the other hand, I kinda like the odd choice of Phil (Bradley Cooper) calling Sasha Barrese’s Tracy again and not someone else who was actually more significant in this story. It was a direct, unblinking call back to the original. And the dialogue, likewise. There is a lot of self-reference in the film… but it’s not coy, trying to pretend it’s not winking at the audience. I appreciate not being treated like a moron.
For me, the bottom line is, did I laugh? And I did. As much as I did the first time around. And in the final moments, I had great pleasure… however predictable the sequence might seem.
I guess that if I expected them to change the game… to push the envelope… to make the sequel that armchair quarterbacks fantasized about… I would have been disappointed that Michael Caine didn’t show up as a debauched ex-pat who knew more about Bangkok hookers than anyone alive… or that the baby wasn’t along for the ride… or that there isn’t really a topper to the Mike Tyson appearance. But I have to say, I thought it was refreshing that they weren’t trying to trick us into loving some other movie. And unless Phillips decides to do “The Wolfpack Meets Count Dracula,” there is probably no reason to do this a third time.
But I laughed.
One last note… I mentioned in my chat with Todd P that I thought this film was better than Bridesmaids. And I think it is. It’s more professional, less unable to let go of its darlings (though this one cycles one idea one too many times too), and more of a movie movie. Bridesmaids is pleasure, but it’s all over the place and Wiig spends time mugging to camera too often and too long for her own good. But the way that Old School announced Will Ferrell as more than a character third-wheel and the way Phillips created DJ Qualls in Road Trip… that’s the stuff of Bridesmaids. It’s a pleasant enough experience, but it is a door opener to the better stuff, more than a great movie. Of course, critics always prefer what they feel they discovered. And so it goes…