REVIEW: The Hangover Part II Is a Buddy Movie That's Nobody's Friend

Movieline Score: 4

Though critics and other film-pundit types often like to lament the death of movies as a communal experience, box-office evidence shows that plenty of people still like to watch comedies with other people. Todd Phillips The Hangover was one of the biggest hits of summer 2009, and anticipation for The Hangover Part II has been pitched as high as a monkey's scream. In theory, these are the types of movies people want to see in groups; that half-going-crazy feeling is a lot more fun when it's shared.

But The Hangover Part II is just more of the same, and yet less. It follows the same essential pattern as its predecessor, but the ingenious loopiness is gone; the mechanism behind it grinds instead of whirrs. The principal cast is back: This time, it's Ed Helms' straight-arrow dentist Stu who's getting married, dragging all his pals to Thailand, where his fiancée's family lives. Bradley Cooper's Phil is the short-fuse jerk who swears a lot (at one point he uses the "C" word in a diner, a lame shocker that's clearly inserted into the movie only as a cheap jolt), Justin Bartha is the boring one who exists only to absorb and reflect the craziness around him, and Zach Galifianakis' Alan is the malevolent naïf, the thundercloud troublemaker who shuffles through the picture with an air of "Who, me?" aloofness.

He's the one, of course, who causes all the trouble: In the first movie, his surreptitious introduction of certain pharmaceuticals caused a bachelor party to reel out of control, becoming so wild that the next day none of the participants could remember what happened. In Part II, it's the same thing all over again, only this time, he's taken an instant dislike to Stu's fiancée's 17-year-old brother, a superbright, polite future surgeon played by Mason Lee. Alan wants to knock him out so the rest of the gang can enjoy their evening of pre-wedding fun, but the drugs (which have been dusted onto marshmallows) are consumed by the others instead. They awake the next day in a cockroach-infested shack somewhere in Bangkok, with shaven heads and tattooed faces, with a chattering, scolding monkey presiding over the whole affair.

What the hell happened? Wouldn't you like to know. But The Hangover Part II makes it hard to care. The answer involves a cokehead low-life (played, once again, by Ken Jeong), a sly gangster (Paul Giamatti, in a small role), libidinous she-males, and assorted drug-dealing baddies. Meanwhile, Stu is in danger of missing his own wedding, but of course that's incidental: No one really cares.

Where The Hangover was bawdy and seemingly untamed, this sequel is meticulously groomed -- Phillips (who also co-wrote the script, with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) is trying to repeat the chemistry of the first movie instead of building upon it, and his spell doesn't take. And unlike the first picture, The Hangover Part II leaves a bitter aftertaste; there's something distasteful about the way Stu becomes horrified at the idea of having been penetrated by a beautiful Thai pre-op transsexual -- she, on the other hand, had a great time and remembers the whole event fondly. Other gags involve flaccid penises being nibbled by monkeys. Galifianakis' Alan adds unnecessary narration: "When a monkey nibbles on the penis, it's funny in any language."

Actually, it's not. The Hangover Part II is too sharp-edged to be any fun, and even though Galifianakis has the best lines, it's draining to watch him. In the first movie, his character's latent sociopathology was cut with a dash of sweetness: When, in The Hangover, he strutted into the Las Vegas Caesar's Palace and demanded to know if Caesar had actually lived there, his huffiness at the answer revealed a childlike respect for the truth. Here, he has a few dimly glittering lines -- including one about being "a stay-at-home son" -- but mostly, he just runs the material into a deeper rut. The Hangover Part II is a buddy movie designed to be seen with your buddies. But its writing and direction smell more like marketing than actual filmmaking -- after administering the knockout drops, it proceeds to roll you. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

RELATED: Read Movieline's interviews with Hangover 2 co-stars Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong and director Todd Phillips.


  • SallyS says:

    Okay, it is disappointing, but I love these characters so much from the first film I enjoyed spending time with them again. And the monkey was real cute. If there is a 3 (and I hope) maybe Todd Phillips won't play it so safe and give us the originality and humour of the first.

  • hung says:

    "more like marketing than actual filmmaking " - YES! That hits it. These Hangover movies could have been insanely wild and idiosyncratic at one time, but they're actually...sterile!

  • tn says:

    Girl, you know Todd Phillips aint gonna like this.

  • Margo says:

    God forbid they set a film in Thailand and miss out on some transphobia.

  • Jack Knive says:

    I thought the first film was an ambivalent illumination of the subliminal hate that lies underneath the contemporary american boujie class.
    I mean-- it was really cruel and dehumanizing.... don't get me wrong, it was very funny-- but if one missed the bleakness (or if the bleakness wasn't in some part the unconscious genesis of one's laughter) I think one wann't paying close attention.
    You don't think Zach G really exalts the despicable sociopathic tendencies in the characters the film portrays?
    I thought it was a deliberately extreme-ized version of the "boys will be boys" idea that aimed to instill at least a certain amount of unease at how far that was taken-- how far a contemporary american will go when there will be no "official" accounting of his actions that might mess with his fake suburban cover life... the film just assumes the audiences' total relation to the amoral modern identity that holds that, well, what happens in _____, stays in _____.
    Or did I just read all that existential dread into the film? All that cynicism? I just kinda figured that was the secret pulse that made it so popular.
    Maybe I was the only one who felt like his soul needed a shower afterwards...
    Also, does anyone remember the series of "Only Bangkok" SNL sketches that had various people in Thailand calling for help after their misadventures turned truly FUBAR?

  • Jack Knive says:

    See, that's so strange to me... I would never want to spend any time with these characters. They seem like exaggerated distortions of the worst traits of every mediocre too-old-to-be-frat-asshole I have had the misfortune of knowing.
    It's less that the characters are blind to their obsessions (a perfect recipe for a comedic character) and more that they just don't give a fuck. And that that trait is exalted by the superfans I have encountered. They see themselves as casually apathetic, too (which we all know, of course, is the biggest giveaway for a self-hating softy trying to douse his own vulnerabilities.)
    I keep thinking of "Sideways" as a film where the characters are assholes, but where Paul G.'s character feels trapped just like the audience does as his pal goes about his despicable escapades-- to the point where we feel somewhat angry at him for not doing more to stop it-- we feel frustration along with the compassion at his inertia as a human being-- and that shit was funny, too.
    "The Hangover" ain't no "Sideways," of course.
    That the cast ultimately pulled off a relatability and chemistry that worked was the tiny miracle that the film hung on-- and also it's most troubling quality... that everyone could so casually relate to the sociopathy. Did no one else really not feel a little queasy/guilty during that final credit photo montage?
    That's why I thought the film had a fairly palpable undercurrent of cultural critique (like all transcendent comedy.)
    I didn't really care for "Very Bad Things" (Of which these Hangover films are a tame, less brave strain) or "Bad Santa," either. I have no pollyanna-ish problem with depictions of amorality or violence or sex, and I find black comedy can be very affective-- there's just some ineffably bleak vibe I got off of the above.
    Plus, I think Bradley Cooper just has that Eddie Haskell quality in his DNA. Which works for some folks, I guess. Cross-breed him with Ryan Reynolds and Dane Cook and I'd pay to see the resulting offspring buried in a box (as a movie, I mean... yeah, that's the ticket...)
    I can take Cartman and I can dig The Fonze and come away laughing at any outrageous excesses.
    But Eddie Haskell always just seemed like a little dick to me.
    The Hangover universe feels a little too full of Eddie Haskells. But maybe that's the point?
    (My last long post, I swear it.)

  • Morgo says:

    Yeah, this kind of hits the nail on the head for me. That exalted boys will be boys theme, the stereotypical characters, the not even disguised racism, homophobia, it was distasteful. The only good laugh the audience got in my screening was the father-in-law's wedding speech, though there were a few minor laughs along the way, it actually wasnt all that funny either.

  • Trace says:

    Zach's character seemed to suffer significant brain damage between films.