***/**** Image A Sound A Extras C-
starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Paul Giamatti
screenplay by Craig Mazin & Scot Armstrong & Todd Phillips
directed by Todd Phillips
by Walter Chaw I guess it says something about picking up speed at the bottom of that proverbial slippery slope that I thought The Hangover Part II was consistently funny and pleasantly vile throughout, and that the only time I felt genuinely offended was during the closing-credits snapshot montage, wherein Eddie Adams's infamous VC execution photograph is re-enacted in a digital tableau mort. That's the line, I guess, and kudos in a heartfelt way to director Todd Phillips and company for finding a lower place to draw it. Until then, The Hangover Part II is a vaguely linear instalment of Jackass, mapping the odd longitudes of male friendship set loose in fleshpot/den of iniquity Bangkok, the Asian equivalent of the first film's Las Vegas; where the original tackles that Sodom's sin-of-choice prostitution, this likewise spends some time with transvestitism and sex-trafficking. Ugly? Well, it's not pretty--but it is pretty funny as it reunites pretty boy Phil (Bradley Cooper), sociopath Alan (Zach Galifianakis), non-descript every-guy Doug (Justin Bartha), and dentist Stu (Ed Helms), for whose wedding the boys have reconvened some ill-defined months after the events of the previous film. Along for the ride this time is adorable little-bro-of-the-bride Teddy (Mason "son of Ang" Lee), who has the de facto Dragon Daddy issues as a Stanford pre-med and concert cellist and who, of course, will go through a heart-warming transformation through the loving attention of unbridled hedonism, drug abuse, organized crime, and mutilation. Oh, and there's a fellating, drug-dealing monkey in a denim Rolling Stones vest. Ah, Bangkok.
The Hangover Part II's chief virtues are its tackling of its interracial element without anything like controversy and a mid-stream dream sequence that is sticky, loaded, and, my God, there it is, brilliant. (It actually draws a line, said sequence, to Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, leading one to fairly wonder if memory and perception are the catchwords of this new decade in film.) Stu's engagement to stupid-beautiful Lauren (Jamie Cheung) is a matter of fact, not controversy--the only bad you could really say about it is that it's just the excuse to set the film in Thailand and that the movie's squeamishness about going too far in demonizing Asians (all of its baddies are Eurotrash) puts it in danger of being a little condescending. Enter Chow (Ken Jeong) to level the racial playing field, so offensive in every quantifiable measure that he's destined to be the Stifler of this franchise and single-handedly responsible for setting back the cause of Asians in mainstream American culture by, oh, a couple of months at least. Saving grace of both Chow and The Hangover Part II proper is that they're funny. (And what the monkey does to Chow while he's sleeping is funny in an indelible way.) All of it's amiable enough, really, that even a coda with Mike Tyson singing selections from "Chess" only kills the vibe for a few minutes. The real shame is that this sequel's ultimately another scatological burlesque that falls in lockstep with Judd Apatow's ultra-conservative message of monogamy and marriage. Following the broad outlines of the first film faithfully, Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a devastated hotel room, this time with a severed finger and a chain-smoking monkey instead of a baby and a tiger--but the principle's the same. Again they're missing one of their member (Teddy) and forced to try to piece together what happened the night before using clues and artifacts; frankly, I kind of appreciate that they didn't try to reinvent the wheel.
Then there's Alan's dream sequence, wherein he imagines himself and his buddies as children, acting out the debauchery of the night before for a little shock value that also provides startling insight into Alan's dysfunction. The way I responded to Alan thereafter was unexpected. Out of nowhere, The Hangover Part II develops depth and at least one character of real complexity and sympathy. No worries, though, as the picture balances out its lone nod to resonance with a chase sequence, a boat crash, a shooting, and tons of indiscriminate and sometimes-confusing male and female nudity. It's disgusting and childish, skilfully filmed but slicked over in a sticky patina of yellow disease in every shot of Bangkok, generating a feeling of filth that's almost physical. And at the end of the day, it's not a bad look at how men act when they're alone together without a woman in sight to impress, in love with their caveman notions of loyalty and masculinity. It's dumb, yeah, and hugely indefensible, but The Hangover Part II's also a specific vision of bliss. But I'll never eat a shitake mushroom again.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner's Blu-ray release of The Hangover Part II is sparsely supplemented for one of the year's big titles--not that, as a reviewer, I'm complaining. Uninspired and strange, the centrepiece of the extras is Robert Bauer's "Unauthorized Documentary" (25 mins., HD), a mockumentary in which "Felicity"'s Rob Benedict plays "Miles Davis-Davidson," a documentarian trying to dig up incriminating footage of the film's cast and crew tearing it up, Bangkok-style. Morgan Spurlock and "Felicity" producer J.J. Abrams appear as themselves, though in terms of the principals, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms sit out the charade, and Ken Jeong participates in his usual over-eager fashion. Biggest problem? It's not funny--or subversive. Ultimately, in casting Todd Phillips as an imposing figure, it becomes an indirect hagiography of the filmmaker, whereas "The Comic Rhythm of Todd Phillips" (7 mins., HD) fetes him head-on. (A little perspective: Phillips did make School for Scoundrels, and not that long ago.) "Not Your Everyday Monkey" (3 mins., HD) sexualizes Cooper's offscreen relationship with Crystal the Monkey, complete with '70s porno music, but otherwise made me want to own a trained monkey. A bit where Crystal's about to lick a fake penis and the trainer tells the actors to stifle their laughter in case they spook her is more edifying than the entirety of "Unauthorized Documentary."
"Bangkok Tour with Mr. Chow" (3 mins., HD) is more Jeong being Jeong, but allegedly in character, while a painfully long moment of Zach Galifianakis trying to get a microphone to work pads out a 5-minute "Gag Reel" (HD). Continuing a baffling tradition started on the BD of the original, a HiDef "Action Mashup" compacting this sequel's thrills and spills into a 46-second montage rounds out the special features. The dynamic 2.40:1, 1080p transfer of The Hangover Part II proper is above reproach, with Lawrence Sher's cinematography once again making a smooth, filmic transition to the format, even as Sher pushes the rankness well beyond what it was in the first movie. For better or worse, the picture's qualities as a tactile travelogue have been faithfully reproduced here. Meanwhile, there's real flair to the soundmix, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The beats of Christophe Beck's score drop some deep bass and the entire soundstage yields to the set-pieces, which typically doesn't happen when the overriding genre is comedy. Note that I had to restart the disc to get the centre channel to kick in; I'm sure it was just one of those quirks of technology. A retail DVD additionally housing a Digital Copy of The Hangover Part II is included in the packaging. No unrated version this time--I guess they got to push the envelope enough in theatres. Originally published: December 19, 2011.