Watching The Hangover Part II, it’s easy to see why intellectuals would hate Todd Phillips. It’s an unnecessary sequel, half the jokes rely on outrageousness and nudity, there’s a monkey sidekick, gay panic jokes, stock characters galore, Thai scenery straight of the It’s-a-Small-World-After-All book of national stereotypes, and the whole enterprise is imbued with that Entouragey sense of boys being boys that snoots love to despise**. The reason Todd Phillips is a genius, however, is that even with the hackiest, most idiot-pandering setup in the world, he can still deliver a punchline that only the smarmiest of uptight dickweeds would refuse to laugh at. Yes, monkey sidekicks are almost as overused a trope as amnesia, BUT OH MY GOD, IS THAT MONKEY WEARING A MINIATURE MOTORCYCLE HELMET WITH A BANANA ON IT?! I THINK I LOVE YOU, MOTORCYCLE MONKEY COKE-MULE!
The second installment moves the action from Vegas (one exec actually passed on the first Hangover when Phillips wouldn’t call it “What Happens in Vegas”) to Thailand, where dorky dentist Ed Helms is set to marry possibly cross-eyed, too-hot-and-young-for-him Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch), much to the chagrin of his future father-in-law, a disapproving Asian caricature (YOU BLING SHAME TO FAMIRRY, ROUND EYE!). Before you know it, Helms and the boys have woken up in Bangkok not knowing how they got there (“It happened again!”), with a tattoo on Helms’ face and his 16-year-old brother-in-law Teddy (Stanford pre-med, cellist, apple of his father’s eye, played by Ang Lee’s son, Mason) missing. The setting is an upgrade, as is the Macguffin, the only clue as to Teddy’s whereabouts being his severed finger. “Give it up, Bangkok has him now,” everyone tells them. Whereas the foundation for the wackiness of the first Hangover was a yuppie who might not make it to his wedding, this time around, there’s an actual edge, a heart of darkness vibe that gives it more depth than just DUDE BRO WE HAD SUCH A CRAZY NIGHT DOZER PUNCHED A COP IT WAS SICK.
I concede plenty of problems with The Hangover II — Zach Galifianakis is a cartoon, so is Ken Jeong (overacting again, though he’s a little more tolerable in this one), the tired, disapproving-father-in-law plot, the totally one-dimensional fianceé, and the requisite GET IT, IT’S THAILAND settings — a seedy hotel room, a speed boat, ladyboys, a monastery, a strip club — and what the f*ck, the hookers in a thai strip club are all fully-clothed? You gotta be f*cking kidding me, that’s like black Klansmen.
But clever execution has a way of elevating even a banal idea. Todd Phillips is a bit like the In N Out Burger of directors. Sure, it’s just a hamburger, but he throws a fresh bun and some crispy lettuce under there and suddenly you’re thinking, “Mmm, hamburger!” Could you bash it for being the only thing stupid people will eat? I suppose, but that doesn’t make it a bad meal.
Yes, the very idea of a subplot involving a monkey, a monkey smoking cigarettes, a monkey wearing clothes, etc. is pretty groanworthy. It’s blatantly hack, but like so many elements here, they treat it with a certain Brechtian self-awareness (Brecht was a famous organ grinder, right?). I defy you not to laugh at the image of a monkey selling cocaine, or even better, Zach Galifianakis bidding the monkey farewell by delivering one of my favorite lines of any movie this year, “Aww, I wish monkeys could Skype.”
Your setup could be a Jeff Dunham Sambo puppet screaming about findin’ a fat white bitch with a high credit score, but if the punchline is that well crafted, I’m sorry, it’s still going to be funny. (To be fair, there are other jokes that fall completely flat, like Galifianakis’ character asking if a Thai fishing village has a Long John Silver’s. Derp.)
I thought the first Hangover was decent, if overrated, and I understand the backlash against this one. In general, it’s a “loud” comedy. Intellectuals (myself included) generally prefer comedy that tends towards humorously mundane to that which is outrageous. Partly because dumb, obnoxious people think outrageous comedy is the only comedy, and partly because watching people try to be more and more outrageous, you naturally become inured to outrageousness — which makes outrageous comedy feel dated almost immediately. But aside from making visually well-crafted movies, Todd Phillips’ first feature was Hated, a documentary about dead, sh*t-smeared punk rocker GG Allin. Some of that sensibility still shows through. Phillips has an edge and a willingness to “go there” such that when he aims for outrageous, he can actually hit close to the mark on occasion, rather than some watered-down, child-like facsimile of it.