Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips)

The pack is back, and they're in deep s**t again.

"It happened again." That line uttered by Phil, played by Bradley Cooper, isn't just a dialogue that welcomes an expected rehash of the million to none mishap in the first "The Hangover" film. In a way, it is a pure declaration of things to come. If the first film dared to create an outrageously original narrative out of two split ideas of a delayed wedding and a very bad hangover, this second introduced us to something consciously cinematic and contrived: they're now officially nothing but a plot device.

But despite of the fact that "The Hangover Part II's" overall quality both in and out is basically just the same with its predecessor, I think this film is now more focused more than ever to its characters than the far-fetched plot. And although the 'Wolfpack' (their name, according to Alan) do not have any control to whatever happens in the film, their profanity-laden, insanity-driven and drug-addled antics surely reign over it.

"Bangkok has them now" is more or less a phrase about the idea of hopelessness and being done for, but I think the phrase "They are now IN Bangkok" is a more apt generalization. Do you really think that they are the victim here? Or is it the other way around?

Much has been said about the film's extreme one-dimensional Asian stereotyping, Eric Cartman-style, by way of Zach Galifianakis' Alan. But looking at it, Galifianakis' character's suggestive racism is much more depleted compared to the film's visual texture that is more or less the one with the more judging, eyebrow-raised tone. The camera pans over Thailand's dirty streets, claustrophobic alleyways and cheap transvestite clubs. And if ever it goes through high-rise buildings, they're just treated as places for criminal deals. The police are portrayed as silent idiots who can't discern an old man from a young I.D. picture, a Kim Jong-il look-alike criminal (perfectly portrayed by actor Ken Jeong in both the first film and here) shown as an effeminate little bastard and an exploited elderly monk on the side.

Of course, to a viewer whose comfort zone is in the open and a sensitivity that is considerably heightened, "The Hangover Part II" can easily be seen as a comedy piece about third-world condemnation. Unconsciously (maybe), some critics who have rated it below average may have done so because of its heavy-handed undertones or because of its distasteful visual preferences. But you know what? This film, for whatever it tries to achieve, whether it is to be a reluctant adventure feature, a mystery film or a naively transgressive exploration of Bangkok's underbelly, pulled it all off quite convincingly and without relent.

And surprisingly, the much-needed performance push for the film was never undermined for the sake of shock comedy. Zach Galifianakis is quite successful as the eccentric Alan, Ken Jeong, as what I've mentioned above, is great as Chow and even Paul Giamatti's cameo is never wasted. But I think Ed Helms as Stu is the best in the film in his ability to convey and contain both vulnerability and contempt in his predicament, both for his pungent exploits in the streets of Bangkok the night before and his uneasily cold relationship with his bride's father .

As a sequel, I think "The Hangover Part II" is arguably better and more resonant with its exotic choice of country and pseudo-cultural crash course compared to the first's colorful though bland Las Vegas setting. And as a comedy film, it has all the goods and clumsy energy of a charged summer farce, well-conceived plot twists and turns, to say the least, and some commonly-placed grotesques.

Only the sense of 'I've seen it all before' (even the picture slideshow during the end credits is still intact, there to do nothing but (clears throat) fill up potential plot holes) and an awkwardly mishandled Mike Tyson cameo prevent it from being outright 'solid' and truly exceptional, save for its great cinematography and some scattered hilarity.


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