The Brutal Hilarity of 'The Hangover Part II'

The adult buddy flick takes the original's premise and pushes the comedy further--a lot further

Hangover2_Orr_post.jpg

Warner Bros.


"It happened again."

Thus begins Todd Phillips's The Hangover Part II, the sequel to his box-office-crushing 2009 comedy. Again, Phil (Bradley Cooper) is on the phone to Tracy (Sasha Barrese), the last film's nervous bride-to-be. Again, he is explaining that he and fellow "wolfpackers" Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) have, on the eve of a wedding, managed to lose a member of the wedding party during an apocalyptic boys' night out--a night of which, again, they can remember nothing. From that unlucky phone call we will, again, rewind the clock to follow the amnesiac investigators as they try to piece together what happened.

And once again, less probably, the journey is hilarious.

Despite its slavish fidelity to the structure of its predecessor, Phillips's sequel manages to take each plot twist and twist it further. The wedding, this time, is Stu's, and the lost wolf--more a cub, really--is the 16-year-old brother of his betrothed, Lauren (Jamie Chung), whom she unwisely left in the pack's care. As Lauren's family is Thai, the wedding has been relocated from L.A. to a Southeast Asian resort, and the boys' contingent debaucheries from Vegas to Bangkok. This time, in place of a baby and a tiger, Phil et al. find themselves the bewildered custodians of a wizened monk and a chain-smoking monkey. (His French inhale is something to behold.) Rather than a pulled tooth, this outing's unremembered self-mutilation involves an amputated finger. And as for the sex-worker with whom otherwise mild-mannered dentist Stu has a fling--well, let's say she's rather more exotic than Heather Graham, and leave it at that.

The Hangover Part II is, of course, crass and violent and profane in the manner of contemporary R-rated comedy. But to a greater degree than the first film--itself already a bit of an outlier--there is an underlying ferocity, even cruelty, to the proceedings: in place of the shit-and-vomit humor often encountered at this end of the MPAA spectrum, the gags here tend to involve fatal overdoses and graphic sexual intrusions.

Indeed, the comedy is not just black but noir--which is apt, given the formula to which Phillips has adhered so rigidly. The missing person, the seamy urban setting, the gradual accretion of clues: The Hangover films are, essentially, hard-boiled crime stories spun into comic depravity, heirs as surely to Hammett, Chandler, and Cain as they are to Apatow and the Farellys. This was central to the appeal of the first movie. Even as it found room for scenes with taser-happy schoolkids and Mike Tyson singing "In the Air Tonight," there was an uncommon meticulousness to its structure: It succeeded not only as comedy but, in its way, as mystery.

The formula works less well in the sequel. In part this is because the plotting is looser; in part because the gags and performances--Galifianakis's in particular--have grown broader; and in part simply because, unlike the first movie, this one doesn't have the chance to come at you sideways, to surprise with its novel model of comedy. It's a testament to the strength of that model, though, that despite its derivative nature and other shortcomings, The Hangover Part II is brutally funny. Again.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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