Is this the raunchiest mainstream comedy of all time?
How does the sequel to the most successful R-rated comedy of all time top scenes in which Mike Tyson sings, sexual acts are simulated on an infant, and a go-for-broke photo montage depicts an explicit night of debauchery? According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Hangover II attempts to do it "with an astonishing array of male genitalia."
The original, unapologetically raunchy Hangover, which grossed more than$460 million worldwide and won the Golden Globe Award for best comedy in 2009, drew a new line marking how far a film could go and still be accepted by mainstream audiences. When a sequel to The Hangover was announced, many expected the second film—set in Bangkok, no less—to further push the envelope when it comes to sexually explicit content and language.
That The Hangover II exceeded those expectations of raunchiness and shocked the critics who were invited to early screening of the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is news in and of itself. But if this new "raunchiest mainstream film ever" is really on track to open north of $100 million this weekend and perhaps become the highest-grossing rated R film of all time, it could change the future of mainstream cinema.
"The amount of penises on screen is at a new level," one talent manager told THR. "It's pretty crazy." The presence of male genitalia is nothing new to R-rated comedies. The MPAA allows them on screen as long as they aren't erect. But previous mainstream comedies that mined the member for laughs, from Porky's to Borat to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, apparently don't hold a candle to how often the "device" is used in The Hangover II. And that's in addition to numerous scenes depicting drug use and extensive explicit language.
According to The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, "Hollywood insiders say the film may set a new standard—or a new low depending on your opinion—for full-frontal male nudity in big-budget studio films." Director Ivan Reitman—no stranger to the raunchy comedy himself—told THR that The Hangover II could forever change the standard of propriety in film, including what directors will be able to get away with in the future: "It's a last-frontier thing. There's been a long tradition of naked and half naked women in films, so this is a way of upping the ante in terms of erotic explicitness."
Audiences and critics could discern a shift it the level of raunch and obscenity that became commercially viable after The Hangover. A comedy about sex buddies certainly would not have been as frank or explicit as No Strings Attached before The Hangover—and there definitely wouldn't have been two such films on the subject (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis's Friends With Benefits is expected to take the conceit even further). As Bridesmaids proves, being called "The female Hangover" and echoing that film's raucous content is smart marketing.
In his review, Roger Ebert asks, "Is this some kind of a test?" The film, he says, "plays like a challenge to the audience's capacity for raunchiness." With The Hangover II expected to earn a huge box office return, the audience capacity for such content appears to be there. The Hangover is raising the bar for R-rated comedies again. Mainstream films will only continue to get bluer.
But in her review of the film, The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday wonders, importantly, whether taking things even further directly translates into more laughs. "Summer wouldn't be fittingly launched without a go-for-broke raunchy comedy, the kind of uncensored, emotionally expansive movie where pleasure can be found not just in the taboos it gleefully smashes but in its celebration of friendship, emotional growth and sundry humanist values," she writes. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have that movie: It's called Bridesmaids."
It appears "an astonishing array of male genitalia" may not always be a good thing.