Wednesday, June 1, 2011

City of Squalor: The Hangover Part II

With the one-two punch of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and The Hangover Part II, I had to reconsider a lot of things--my love of movies, my constitutional ability to endure torment, the nature and meaning of film blogging, and most of all--why? Why watch this stuff? I had to remind myself that I did enjoy aspects of the first Hangover back in 2009. As I wrote in a review, "In its crude, drunken way, The Hangover is a subversive treat for guys." So, hard as it is to imagine now, the original had something. From the standard opening swooning touristy helicopter shots of Thailand's waterscapes to its late cameo of Mike Tyson singing(?) Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok," The Hangover II mostly left me brooding on the existential nihilism of bottom feeder mass spectacles. What was once pseudo-subversive had now all become frozen calculation, leaving one with the ironic sight of craven market-driven repetition disguising itself as rebellion as the stupid mostly white American characters applaud themselves for their imperialist blindness to a foreign culture. If Bangkok is a good playland for yuks, why not some POW camp in Saigon?

Las Vegas worked because the city is already an exaggerated cartoon dedicated to the sick excesses of American greed and hubris, as has already been proven in Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. All "city of squalor" Bangkok means to Phil, Stu, Alan, and Doug is an extra long 16 hour flight to further drugged buffoonery, a vaguely noirish "mystery" undercut by an exact replication of The Hangover's plot, and a cameo of a game Paul Giamatti establishing that he's a gangster because he's willing to yell in a crowded ritzy restaurant. Given the swank island resort where Stu (Ed Helms) is supposed to marry an improbably gorgeous (and otherwise anonymous) Thai bride (Jamie Chung), I felt that I had wondered into a late showing of Adam's Sandler's Hawaiian idyls in Just Go With It (a feeling that became more pronounced when Alan (Zach Galifianakis) started acting like a Sandler prototype: the belligerent overgrown man baby).

In the first Hangover, there was something intriguing about Alan's weirdness, but in the sequel he's just petulant and blandly (or baldly) deranged, all of his menace reduced to a boyish affection for a monkey. Eager to please even as it brutishly jokes about an accomplished musician losing a finger, The Hangover II is full of bizarre cheerful reactions that make no sense. Dentist Stu wakes up with a large Mike Tyson-esque tattoo on his face, so he screams and fritz's out (his head-wagging frenzies are as funny as anything else in the movie). Then he, Phil, and Alan go looking for his fiancee's younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) as if nothing has happened. Later, he applauds "the demon" inside him, describing his "dark side" as "pretty fucking cool if you ask me," as if a second drugged bacchanalia of his "wolfpack" magically bestowed manhood and machismo on his bland dental mien. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper has become a supporting actor scarcely distinguishable from the others, and as they all laugh at the monkey committing pseudo-fellatio on a kidnapped monk, Alan notes the film's calculated bottom-feeding international appeal when he says "When monkey nibbles on penis, it's funny in any language."

For all of its pseudo-excesses, The Hangover Part II has all of the spontaneity and charm of an accountant tabulating figures. While the first film held allusions to Bringing Up Baby, Fandango, and Rain Man, The Hangover Part II can only allude to The Hangover, thereby attaining a perfect loop in which director/writer Todd Phillips dares not do anything more than exploit the audience's affections for those wild, blind chuckleheads of the first go round. Perhaps, Phillips doesn't want to risk anything in this grim economy. Perhaps, some day in the distant future, people will look back (if they can bear to sit through it) on The Hangover Part II as an example of masculinity's last capitulation to complete cultural impotence. Perhaps, when The Hangover III gets released, we will laugh uneasily as one of the guys gets drawn, flogged, quartered, and beheaded. Stu's fiancee's dad criticizes Stu for "not" having "the eyes of a man," but "the eyes of a coward." He could have said the same of the fearful bean-counting men behind the camera.

11 comments:

Erich Kuersten said...

whoa! Brutal and awesome accurate! Truly, you have the acumen of the tiger missing from this sorry sequel!

Hokahey said...

I'm going to give this one a miss, but I really enjoyed your well-written review. "The Hangover II mostly left me brooding on the existential nihilism of bottom feeder mass spectacles." I really enjoyed that sentence! Unlike you, I didn't find much to laugh at in the first installment, so nothing draws me to the existential nihilism of this bottom feeder mass spectacle.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Erich. I think the tiger of the first Hangover was replaced by a Buddhist monk in the second. At any rate, no man or creature in II had anywhere near the charisma of the random chicken in that Las Vegas suite.

Thanks, Hokahey. I'd like to get a fix on the unique sense of hopelessness that arises like ozone from these blockbusters.

Jett Clark said...

Watching the trailer for Hangover 2, the shot that stuck with me was the three stars standing in silent frustration in an elevator as Ken Jeong provided his character's gimmick before being asked to stop by Galifianikis. It's almost as if they realize the film was solely made to cash in on the popularity and wide reach of the first, with what other artistic aim in mind as it started production? "Sense of hopelessness" indeed.

Kelli Marshall said...

"Why watch this stuff?" Exxxxxcellent question. Sometimes, as a film teacher/scholar/connoisseur of pop culture, I think I'm supposed to watch this stuff -- you know, to keep up with what's going on, use it for fodder in the classroom, etc. But most of the time, I think no. No, no, no. I'm not sitting through (and paying $10.00 to see) another Pirates movie, another superhero movie, another Hangover, etc. I've already seen that; I know what I'm gonna get.

Okay, so why did you go? =) Because you remembered liking the first one? Or because you feel, as I sometimes do, a duty to see what HWood is churning out? (I laughed heartily throughout the initial Hangover as well, btw.)

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Jett,

The elevator scene is also a variation on a similar one with the baby in The Hangover. I imagine that Phillips read some marketing data about how audiences prefer sequels that are similar to the original, and just followed along. It worked. I was thinking while watching X-Men: First Class that much of my pleasure in the movie came from my affection for certain actors, such as Kevin Bacon, having fun with their otherwise cheesy roles. Much of the "fun" functions like McDonalds, comfort in familiarity.

Thanks, Kelli,

I mostly go out of morbid curiosity to see the worst, also because occasionally a bad movie will result in a good review out of heightened aggravation. It reminds me of a quote by John Updike, where he wrote that increasingly, he does not go to movies, because when he does, the movies seem designed for an audience of which he is clearly not a member. I also wonder how much people really watch the movies intently, or whether they are primed for summer enjoyment no matter what swill convulses in front of them. What are the basic principles of a summer blockbuster? Movement without an apparent reason, because the real reason is profit. Sequels that bloat on their instant cliches. Busy CGI effects that look like pulsating elongating scabs on a scene. I think it's hard, in the midst of such marketing onslaughts, to keep one's critical focus on what is there on the screen. Do people really want to see Green Lantern? That movie strikes me as the absolute low.

Kelli Marshall said...

"Do people really want to see Green Lantern?" Hmmm, depends on who you mean by "people," of course. ;o) We can't forget that teenage boys are the primary target for Hollywood summer blockbusters (and the type of movies you're talking about).

FilmDr said...

Yes, due to repeat viewings. There's much adolescent angst in X-Men: First Class (although I did like the film's retro early 60's look).

JeanRZEJ said...

I often find myself going to films and feeling like the film was made especially for me - and only me, as the empty theater implies. That being said, your review convinced me that the film is just as (or more) subversive than the original. It always ends up working that way. Maybe it's the voices speaking in those empty screening rooms. Who knows. The Days of Heaven screening last night was oddly populated, though. I think it's going to spawn a sequel - Days of Hangover III. They've got all the wheat they need, all they need is fermentation. Brilliant. It will be a scathing criticism of the 'modern man's' inability to cope with the world beyond the bottle which will be mistaken for a celebration of a group of idiots' ability to consume large amounts of alcohol. Phillips is the new Antonioni, and nobody realizes it.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for your thoughts, JeanRZEJ,

I've yet to see Days of Heaven, but I like your association of Phillips with Antonioni. Antonioni liked to depict listless characters run down by their soulless drifting lives in ennui, etc. When one watches films like Hangover Part II, one feels exactly like those characters because the entire movie conveys a sense of meaningless loss, purposeless pointlessness, and overwhelming despair. So perhaps, the two directors share something.

JeanRZEJ said...

If you're hearing the same voices I'm hearing then I fear for your future, my friend. However, there's no sense in fighting it. We should begin work immediately on a thorough Tractatus Antonioni-Phillipus exploring the entire range of implications that this association carries with it. Surely fame and fortune await at least one of us.

In other news, are you planning on viewing any films that you won't thoroughly detest in the near future?