The Guardian columnist Marina Hyde has spent the last couple of years developing a highly amusing and convincing theory about the Machiavellian brilliance of Simon Cowell in which the man himself, dubbed the karaoke Sauron, has carefully created a system where all roads, regardless of permutation, lead to his pocket. And lo, there is something distinctly Cowellian about the manner in which The Hangover Part II , despite its basic lack of redeeming qualities and general contempt for its audience, has wormed its way into the wallets of the consuming public. In the face of a solid wave of indifference from the majority of critics, The Hangover Part II has galloped away to earn over $200 million at the US box office, is doing great business this side of the pond, and a third Hangover is already in the works.
It’s unnecessary to go into too much detail over the plot, because it’s essentially the same as the first one; a decision from the filmmakers which scuppers any sense of narrative suspense or tension. This time, instead of really boring Doug (Justin Bartha) getting married, it’s quite boring Stu (Ed Helms). And instead of Las Vegas, the ‘Wolfpack’ – as they like to self-mythologize – raise hell in Thailand, where the family of Stu’s fiancee Lauren hail from. Oh, and instead of really boring Doug disappearing after a night of heavy drinking, it’s Teddy (Mason Lee) the hapless younger brother of Lauren. When Gus Van Sant pointlessly remade Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in what many suspected was a devious art-prank, he did so on an almost shot-for-shot basis. Perhaps they could hire him to helm The Hangover Part III, as Part II is perhaps the only film in existence which could be improved by inserting a shot of Vince Vaughn masturbating.
There are so many problems with The Hangover Part II, it’s difficult to know where to begin. It’s boring and largely unfunny for starters. It’s also, quelle surprise, sexist, racist and cowardly. Women get an easier ride this time compared to the first (well, they hardly feature at all), but the real enemy here seems to be a perceived uptight Eastern culture, personified most egregiously by Lauren’s Dad, an ultra-serious, dominant bully who publicly chastises Stu for being boring. Apparently, all he needs to do is loosen up, and only does so when Stu, delivering a cringeworthy chest-thumper of a speech, explains that he’s not boring because he went out and got drunk and got a tattoo. There is the knuckle-suckingly awful scene when the guys swagger noisily into a Thai monastery, and then there is the dismal plot point in which young Teddy (played, incidentally by Ang Lee’s son), a dedicated, prodigious cellist loses his finger. He’s furious, right? Beside himself with dismay, surely? Quite the contrary; he’ll probably never play the cello again, but he’s thrilled to have been enlightened by the Good Ol’ American way of partying till you seriously hurt yourself and HAVING A BLAST, YO! Of all the film’s crass missteps (and there are many), this is perhaps the most insulting. Neither is Phillips able to resist the temptation to include a Bangkok ladyboy joke; although in fairness, this is perhaps the one moment in the film which displays the requisite courage of its crass convictions. The look on Stu’s face when his endowed conquest calmly explains, “I came in you. You came on the floor”, is priceless.
As I’ve argued in a recent article for Little White Lies, whilst the film is certainly in bad taste (and notably darker in tone than the first), it simply doesn’t go far enough in exploring the psychopathology of these so-called friends. In Peter Berg’s underrated (and especially nasty)Very Bad Things, the director had the bollocks to take his bunch of similarly appalling characters to a devastatingly punitive black comic conclusion. Contrastingly, the ending of The Hangover Part II is so ridiculously trite (spoiler alert: Stu and Lauren get married, the humourless Asian father is happy after being lectured by Stu on the progressive permissiveness of American values, they’re all bezzie mates) as to almost reach a subversive level. I wouldn’t credit Phillips with the intelligence, but at a push, it could be interesting to imagine the coda as a fevered play on reality, in the same way that critic Danny Leigh has posited for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Just as Travis Bickle might actually really have died in the shootout, or Rupert Pupkin’s thigh-slapping comedy routine at the end of The King Of Comedy may have existed solely in his head, perhaps in reality the corpses of these abominable jokers are actually mouldering somewhere down a darkened Bangkok alley.
To add to the film’s litany of woes, the principal cast simply aren’t up to the job. Ed Helms, in his element on the small screen in the likes of The Office, is out of his depth here. Even in the arse-about-face world that Phillips has created, you don’t buy his relationship with the beautiful, distinguished Lauren for a second. Galifinakis shuffles about, conveying nothing stronger than an aura of vaguely disaffected weirdness. Bradley Cooper, meanwhile, peacocks around petulantly like a destitute man’s Michael Douglas, with none of the charisma required to transform his character into a vaguely likeable rogue. And then there’s Ken Jeong, well on the way to becoming the most irritating Hollywood comedian since Problem Child‘s deplorable Gilbert Gottfried, playing micro-penised comedy Asian Leslie Chow. He’s won plaudits for his performance, but I’m as buggered as Stu if I know why. The only performer who emerges with credit is Crystal, the drug dealing capuchin monkey, who marginally shades a phoned-in cameo from Paul Giamatti for the accolade of the film’s best performance. You can just imagine the monkey at home, pawing dejectedly through the script and calling up a friend – say, Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose - to bemoan the lack of decent roles out there for chimps. In films as thin as this, you need people, as well as spirited monkeys, to root for. Alas, there’s no-one. When Phil gets smacked upside the head by a Russian Gangster (yes, there’s Russian gangsters in it, too) I was actively hoping that they’d killed him. He is that much of a scumbag.
Ultimately, The Hangover Part II is dispiriting, depressing and cyncial garbage which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for myriad reasons. If we’re talking about men behaving badly, give me Clunes and Morrissey any day.