Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another 'Hangover' hits the screen

The Hangover Part II shifts to Bangkok for a few laughs and a whole lot of desperation.
How many hangovers are too many? In this case, the answer has nothing to do with alcohol consumption and everything to do with what happens over the weekend when moviegoers cast their votes on The Hangover Part II, a prime example of what might be called “big-screen comedy coasting.” Comedy coasting occurs when filmmakers rely on the same basic gags as the first time -- only with bits of novelty added.

To make Part II, the writers seem to have accepted the oft-recited mantra about what creates real estate value: Location. Location. Location. In pursuit of freshness, the wanton debauchery of the original has shifted from Las Vegas to Thailand, a move that gives the second helping a different flavor, although it's one that's not entirely welcome.

In his return engagement, director Todd Phillips allows the comedy to absorb the pungent and often seamy atmosphere of Bangkok at its unsavory worst, a decision that ups the sleaze quotient of a comedy that’s already steeped in desperation. And this time, the desperation can seem as vivid than the humor.

If you’ve seen the first movie, you know the plot, as well as where to look for most of the laughs. Stu (Ed Helms) is slated to be married to a beautiful Thai woman (Jamie Chung). He invites his pals (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha) to the Thai-based nuptials.

The boys vow to behave themselves, but a pre-wedding gathering on a Thai beach – for just one beer – escalates into a wild night. Of course, no one can remember what happened when the crew (minus Bartha’s character) awakens in Bangkok hotel room that's so squalid a better class of insect might refuse to check in. p> Once restored to consciousnesses, Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis set out to find Teddy (newcomer Mason Lee), the 16-year-old brother of the bride, a boy genius who's already excelling at Stanford. It seems Teddy disappeared during the previous night’s frolic.

Along the way, our hapless heroes also renew their contact with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the mincing gangster from the first installment. Paul Giamatti turns up in a small role as another gangster.

The screenwriters (Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) spend a lot of time trying out variations on the original gags. In the 2009 movie, Helms’ character woke up without a tooth. This time, he wakes up with the same facial tattoo as Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champ who made a cameo appearance in the first installment and who also appears in the second.

For those who need warnings about the kind of humor under discussion, it’s worth pointing out that Part II involves transgender sex, a severed finger, nudity, a cigarette-smoking monkey and a variety of other impolite gags that seem to have been tailored for an audience that may care more about reliable repetition than about expressions of originality or imagination.

I was not a big fan of the first movie, and this one turns out have roughly the same impact – only with a grunge quotient that’s not likely to do much for delicate sensibilities or for Bangkok’s already battered reputation.

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