May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong
Directed by Todd Phillips
Starring Ed Helms, Zack Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ken Leung
The Hangover was one of those movies that nobody anticipated. It was starring a group of actors (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis) who were previously in minor supporting roles and was directed by the guy who made the raunchy but relatively tame “Road Trip”, “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch” and written by a couple of moderately successful comedic screenwriters who were by no means industry giants. What we got was an explosion of comedic proportions the likes of which nobody had anticipated. It wasn’t that the Hangover broke new ground or did anything particularly hilarious. There’s been a lot of backlash against the film in the years since its release, but at the time audiences were surprised by how accessible these supporting players were as leading men. They had never seen anything like Galifianakis’ character before and the premise was somewhat relatable with some very outlandish supporting characters that had to be seen to be believed, including the strangely feminine asian gangster Mister Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong, the delivery doctor from “Knocked Up”) and Mike Tyson as…Mike Tyson. A very strange cast indeed and an unconventional take on the hijinks people can get into while on a rowdy weekend in Las Vegas. There was a definite formula to the movie, but it was fresh and audiences responded to the tune of $467.5 MILLION in world wide box office, with a whopping $277 MILLION of that coming in domestically, on a relatively miniscule $30 MILLION production budget.
The fall out was tremendous. Galifianakis, who was previously a well known stand up comic but in no way a household name, became a comedic superstar over night. Ed Helms suddenly went from being the forgotten anchor on “the Daily Show” and a side character on “the Office” to being a viable comedic leading man, while Bradley Cooper was declared a hunk and given the choice role of ‘Face’ in the updated version of “The A-Team”. Todd Phillips, who had taken no upfront salary for “The Hangover”, received $50 MILLION in back end points and the 3 leads were immediately offered $5 MILLION a piece to reprise their roles, which they’d been paid scale for in the original. Either nobody could wait for the sequel or people thought it was a terrible idea for a film whose popularity would wane in time in the court of public opinion. But Hollywood being what it is, a sequel was inevitable and almost exactly 2 years later, we got “The Hangover: Part II”.
The real shame with this relatively rushed sequel is that the film makers looked at what worked from the first movie and tossed it into an asian wok pan instead of the glitter of Vegas. The Hangover Part II is a near scene for scene, gag for gag remake of the original, but with each joke being tweaked for the Bangkok setting and for the mild developments for each character since the end of the original film. Allen is still weird and a walking, offensive man-child, Stu is still easily frustrated and worrisome, Phil still wants them “to get this shit together!” and is the unofficial leader and seemingly the only true grown up of the group and Doug is still barely in the picture.
Two years later, they’re in Thailand and Stu is getting married to a beautiful young Taiwanese-American played by Jamie Chung in a thankless role in which she just has to smile, look pretty, stare fawningly at Stu for a few minutes and collect her paycheck. Phil’s wife shows up but doesn’t even speak in this movie. Doug and his wife share some screen time, but only to set up the re-introduction of her brother Allen, played by scene stealing comedic X-factor Zack Galifianakis.
This time around the gang loses Stu’s fiancee’s younger brother while on an innocent trip to the beach for some celebratory beers, acquired from the hotel and opened in front of them from sealed bottles, though they wake up in a random fleabag motel anyway and must run around town looking for the brother. Once again, Doug is left out of the shenanigans.
We get some new cameos (the part of a tattoo artist was originally intended for the instantly recognizable Mel Gibson, who was replaced by the still kind of instantly recognizable Liam Neeson, who was replaced by the ‘who the hell is going to know this guy outside of cinephiles and ‘Entourage’ show enthusiasts Nick Cassevetes), some old characters re-dressed (Bryan Callen, the Greek wedding chapel proprietor from part one shows up in a mop top wig as a scuzzy Middle Eastern strip club owner in part 2) and a few off the wall surprises that are, like the rest of the film, the exact same as part 1 but amped up to 11 on the volume meter. Stu still gets involved with a sex worker, but this time it’s the Taiwanese kind and it’s so extreme that when you pause the think about the implications of what Stu does, it’s not funny, just scary. (Stu exchanges something with the sex worker in question that the film plays for laughs and then forgets about, but in the real world you’d be running to the nearest airport to get to an American hospital) and yes, Stu obviously gets a facial tattoo instead of losing a tooth. Ed Helms owns this role. His Stu really has grown a bit and feels a bit more game for the insane shenanigans than last time. Bradley Cooper isn’t given much to do and Galifianakis’ man-child kind of maintains his oddly innocent and pleasant demeanor.
The list goes on as they replicate each scene from the original in a slightly more outlandish fashion and this time Mr. Chow tags along on friendly terms for the majority of the film, stealing all his scenes. Ken Leung is genuinely hilarious as the oddly vulgar and effeminate Mister Chow, his schtick not yet outstaying its welcome as he guides the boys on a tour around Bangkok, “city of squalor”. Some of the nods to the original, however, feel very forced and pointless, including a musical interlude by Stu (which wasn’t even planned for the first movie) and an appearance by Iron Mike himself, which felt very shoe-horned in for no good reason other than continuity.
All in all, The Hangover: Part II does its job. It’s funny, it’s outlandish, you get your money’s worth. But ultimately this is just a re-dressed version of the original and feels rather lazy on the creative side of things. Assuming there’s a Hangover: Part III, I for one, hope that they do away with the formula and take a chance on once again re-inventing the wheel.
May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
Adapted and Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, based on the novel by Ned Vizzini
Starring Zach Galifianakis, Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts
From the makers of heavy hitters Half-Nelson and Sugar comes another coming of age tale and a first miss. Keir Gilchrist is miscast and wholly unbelievable as an overwhelmed teenager who gets himself admitted to a mental ward for a week of observation. The basis for the ignition of the story is not very believable because of a combination of his acting and the screenplay.
Essentially Gilchrist’s character “Craig” wants into a mental ward because he is sick of working hard and hates being a virgin. There’s plenty of narration (read: exposition) to explain this and justify the hospitalization, but I never believed in his character. The cast is filled with a who’s who of stand up comedians in dramatic roles with Galifianakis standing out among them. He’s charming and goofy without being stupid or banal. He is subtle and sweet, just what the role calls for. I believe his problems, I believe that he struggles to deal with the real world. For people who’s only exposure to him are The Hangover and Due Date, they should really see this before they pass judgement. Aasif Mandavi of the Daily Show has a nice scene as the admitting doctor and Jim Gaffigan is fine in a thankless role as Gilchrist’s father.
I am focusing on the acting because this is a story made up of characters and caricatures. We have seen it before. It’s essentially One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for teenagers, so there is no need to recap the story very much or even care. It is ultimately about the acting and the acting is so-so. Emma Roberts is good but plays a typical female teenage outcast who is clearly beautiful but has self-esteem problems and needs the nerdy, nebbish boy with no confidence to tell her so. I didn’t like that choice. It seemed too easy and standard for this sub-genre.
All in all, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is Kind of a Dull Story that we have seen before. It’s topped off by a horribly miscast lead and good performances from a couple of people that deserved to be from a much better movie from a much better script.