Todd Phillips

Review: The Hangover, Part II

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The Pitch: How can the same shit happen to the same guys twice?

The Review: I’m sure you recognise the pitch – John McClane expressing an almost fourth-wall breaking level of surprise at his predicament in Die Hard 2. The biggest curse that sequel found itself under was attempting to remain too many elements of its wildly successful predecessor, and the script felt the need to acknowledge the unlikeliness of a New York cop single-handedly taking down terrorists and saving his wife while battling police incompetence on Christmas Eve. Twice. But you know what? While you might only go on your own stag do once, or maybe twice these days, the possibility of everyone getting steaming drunk and getting into larks every time they go on one isn’t actually all that small. So the main surprise in The Hangover, Part II is not that Phil, Stu and Alan end up on another disastrous stag night, it’s that the events of the second stick quite so closely to the events of the orginal, with the main difference being that they’re in Thailand.

Thailand – sleazy land of ladyboys and seedy tattoo parlours, yes? Well no, I had my honeymoon in Thailand, four days in Bangkok and six days on an island, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. While that was six years ago, even Thailand during the recent unfortuate civil unrest looks more appealing than the one that director Todd Phillips and his crew have conjured up. Apart from the very nice looking hotel outside the city where the wedding is due to take place, this is a Bangkok that feels trapped in an alternate universe – one which is probably where the new versions of the characters have appeared from. Initially it’s hard to reconcile the bunch of unlikeable slackers that appear on screen with the people we know from the original, and it isn’t really until Alan appears that anything starts to be familiar.

Zack Galifianakis was one of the breakout stars of the original, and his brand of obsessive weirdness is back in force, giving the film a reassuringly familiar feel. After a while, though, you’ll be hoping for a little originality, as the beats of the original are played out in absolute strict succession. So begins a procession around Bangkok’s trashy underbelly, where the group steadily realise they’re in more and more trouble, and the stakes get raised that little bit higher. Of course, the humour as a consequence must get pushed that little bit further, and that’s when Part II hits real trouble – much of the humour relied on the surprise factor of the original, and the sheer predictability of the follow up means that even chuckles are now few and far between and the belly laughs are now non-existent.

The Hangover, Part II manages to be racist, homophobic, showcase a cruelty to animals and you feel it would be misogynistic if there were such a word that applied to ladyboys, and much of that might be excusable or at least watchable in a very dark comedy if it was in any way funny. Sadly the only real adjective that can be applied is lazy – there are a smattering of good Alan moments, most of which aren’t as good as the comparable moments from Part I and Stu does a great riff on a Billy Joel song while on a boat, and that’s really the sum total of what there is to enjoy here. When you see the Nick Cassavetes tattooist cameo and realise that the joke would have just been that it’s Mel Gibson / Liam Neeson in tattoos, then the complete lack of ambition becomes totally apparent. The Hangover, Part II takes a bunch of guys whose hijinks on their bachelor party gets out of hand in a good natured way, and pushes the concept past a tipping point where each of them becomes an unwatchably unpleasant reflection of the original and the good nature is replaced by a constant ill will. The abiding feeling is one of a dodgy Seventies TV sitcom that takes all of its characters on a package holiday and leaves the laughs at home in what must be the most ill-judged sequel since Babe 2: Pig In The City.

Why see it at the cinema: Apart from two or three tracking shots and the rooftop hotel restaurant scene, there’s very little to suggest that this couldn’t all have been filmed on a beach in Florida. There were a few people laughing at various intervals at my showing, but they were very much in the minority. If you’re really desperate to see this then do so with  as large a crowd as possible as it will maximise your laughing potential, which otherwise will be very limited.

The Score: 3/10

Review: Due Date

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The Pitch: No planes or trains but some automobiles.

The Review: Has Hollywood finally run out of ideas? For anyone around the same age as me, if you were to start describing a film where an odd couple are forced to engage in a road trip together, you’d probably think of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the John Hughes movie from nearly twenty-five years ago. But this isn’t a remake – or at least, it doesn’t claim to be one – but conceptually it’s so similar that the two would happily pass as related. So if we’re not to get originality in concept, we could at least hope that execution would see us through.

So casting Robert Downey Jr. in the “straight” man role taken by Steve Martin would seem to be a wise choice. Downey Jr.’s star is as high as it’s ever been right now, and if anyone can do the sardonic, oppressed narcissism required for such a role and still remain charming it’s surely the Iron Man. Or at least, it should be. He’s not helped out by a script which requires him to be graphically unpleasant on at least a couple of occasions, and while the moments in isolation are funny they go a very long way to undermining our sympathy for his plight.

Zach Galifianakis gets the John Candy role, although at times it feels as if he got a single card with the word “simpleton” on it in place of a script. He’s slightly more affable than his co-star, but his rank stupidity begins to grate when it becomes clear that it’s the only thing servicing the plot. Actually, that’s not quite true; Downey Jr. gets his own share of stupid moments, not least in his jealousy over Jamie Foxx’s character that strains credulity more than a little. Michelle Monaghan is in the movie as well, but has so little to actually do that I could have played the role in a wig with a cushion up my jumper, and you might well not have noticed.

Director Todd Philips, as well as throwing himself a cameo, keeps the action moving along, and when the script calls for actual action, the set pieces are efficient. It actually works marginally more effectively as a buddy action road movie than it does as a comedy, but it’s not really working particularly well on any level. There’s parts to enjoy, but there’s just as much that will cause you to hope that the next close scrape for our dynamic duo turns out to be fatal, so we can all be put out of our misery. There’s precious little feeling of development to cling to, either, more a sense from the characters that they’re glad it’s all over, and you may share a similar feeling. John Hughes’ original remains the benchmark in cross-country curmudgeons for the time being.

Why see it at the cinema: Some nice views of the Grand Canyon to be fully appreciated and a few chuckles to share with your fellow audience, but sadly only a few. Although if you ever wanted to see America’s highest rated sitcom on the big screen, the bizarre Two And A Half Men cameos will give you that chance.

The Score: 5/10