— Like the real thing, “The Hangover” was a doozy. It stayed with audiences for days, weeks, even months. Fans woke up wondering what happened, and asking how they could experience that same level of cranial activity once again.
The answer will soon be in theaters. “The Hangover Part II” opens this week.
Made on a relatively modest budget of $35 million, the 2009 surprise hit “The Hangover” amassed over $277 million domestically. It also raised the profiles of the creatives involved: actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, as well as a host of supporting types, including Mike Tyson and a tiger; and director Todd Phillips, who hit paydirt with “Road Trip” and “Old School” and now had a bona fide phenomenon on his hands.
After about two years of deciding whether to try and recreate the lightning in a bottle captured in the original — actually, it likely took about three seconds to decide that; the rest of the time was about coordinating actors’ schedules and negotiations — “The Hangover Part II” is ready to be experienced.
In this one, Stu (Ed Helms) and the boys travel to Bangkok for his wedding. He is adamant that this time they won’t have a bachelor party and get hammered into oblivion, but of course, he is mistaken. The same basic premise is on display; only the setting and the obstacles are different.
But will “Hangover Part II” be embraced like its predecessor? Here are 10 elements that have to be in place in order for the sequel to produce head-pounding laughter:
Taken separately, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis each have comic promise. Cooper is an able straight man, while Helms and Galifianakis sparkle as screwball and oddball, respectively. Grouped together in an imaginative premise, they played off of each other superbly in the first film. Their efforts seemed fresh and inspired, each taking a unique character and fully realizing his potential. The best comic acting performances occur when the actors don’t play the comedy, but rather the reality of the situation. This trio nailed that. What will be interesting to see is if the script for “Hangover Part II” provides them with the same outrageous yet believable foundation from which to operate and succeed.
One of the reasons “The Hangover” was such a blast is because it felt like a hangover. Ordinarily, that might be painful, except of course this was a hangover suffered by others, so it was funny. In the first film, both the audience and the characters share a question: What happened? Obviously an outrageous event occurred, but beyond that nobody knows anything. The story slowly unfolds as the characters try to piece together the mystery of the previous night’s bacchanal. Can the filmmakers take that same approach, move it to Thailand and make it work just as well? We’ll soon find out if “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” applies to the laughter from this franchise.
One night in Bangkok
If you’re going to make a movie about a group of buddies who misbehave and experience the subsequent uncomfortable fallout, Las Vegas ranks atop the worldwide listings of such locales. So how will Bangkok do for “2”? An exotic backdrop might be just the tonic to preserve this series. The three basic elements of a comedy like this — alcohol, women and criminals — reportedly can be obtained in Thailand, thus lending the film at least a veneer of authenticity. Can audiences relate? After all, not everyone has been to Thailand; not so with Vegas. Then again, if it’s funny, who cares if it takes place in Abbottabad?
“Mr. Tyson would like to know, why is this tiger in your bathroom?” Mike Tyson wasn’t the only one who wondered — audiences had the same question. Tyson just happened to have the most devastating right cross in the room, as a prone and unconscious Galifianakis proved. Tyson’s presence gave “The Hangover” an absurdist quality that only a former menace of popular culture could offer. Good news: Tyson is back in this new edition. Better news: Liam Neeson reportedly makes a cameo, and Paul Giamatti shows up, too. Best news: A brief Mel Gibson appearance was axed after objections from the crew, according to director Todd Phillips. No word on whether the tiger appears again. His agent did not return phone calls.
Call the doctor
Did you know that Ken Jeong is a doctor? Not a PhD of geography or social work, but a real medico? He put down the tongue depressor and picked up a theatrical agent somewhere along the way, and now he’s a near comic legend. His turn as a Chinese gangster in “The Hangover” provided a heaping helping of high-octane amusement. He’s back in “Hangover Part II.” How he goes from the trunk of a car in a Las Vegas parking lot to Thailand is a challenge best left to skilled screenwriters. Suffice to say that if the doctor is in, the second installment figures to be a lot healthier.
Ed Helms’ character Stu Price in the original wakes up with a missing tooth. It’s a fairly prominent missing tooth, too; not the kind you cover up by speaking out of the side of your mouth. It made for an effective sight gag, but the tooth also served as a missing piece in the overall puzzle of the narrative. In trailers for “Hangover Part II,” Helms seems to suffer no dental distress, but he has quite a Mike Tyson-style Maori-inspired tattoo on his mug. Will that ink keep the story flowing in the sequel, or will it represent just another pretty face?
Man behind the camera
Todd Phillips directed “The Hangover.” That was his vision on the screen, every nasty, naughty, bawdy bit. He also directed “The Hangover Part II.” The question, of course, is whether he can recreate the same magic. He isn’t exactly a novice: Phillips directed such successful comedies as “Road Trip” in 2000, and “Old School” in 2003. Of course, he also helmed last year’s “Due Date,” with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, which was savaged by critics but was a modest box office hit. Phillips will have to bring his A game to make sure the sequel doesn’t sink to the level of a B movie.
Baby vs. monkey
This is not a debate that rages often in American households. By almost a 2 to 1 margin, average people choose babies. So did the filmmakers in the original “Hangover,” as the boys woke up to find an infant among their list of “What happened?” items. This time, they arise to discover a monkey among them. Monkeys have more inherent comedic potential than babies, so the outlook for “Hangover II” is promising in that regard — as long as a chunk of the movie isn’t spent finding its mother.
Two women were particularly important to the success of the first “Hangover” film: Rachael Harris, who played Stu’s shrewish wife Melissa, and Heather Graham, who played Jade, the stripper who Stu later discovered he married in a quickie ceremony. The phone blasts from Melissa helped push Stu closer to Jade, and it was that dynamic that helped keep the dramatic (as it were) tension high. Neither is featured in “Hangover Part II.” So the filmmakers faced quite a task trying to recreate those vital female forces in the new version. Women trouble is as much a time-honored tradition in male relationships as the hangover itself.
Not too raunchy, not too sweet
The first “Hangover” successfully straddled the treacherous divide between the tasteless and the sweet. If the tone of the first one leaned too far toward the rowdy and raunchy without making the characters real, then the movie would have become unbalanced. Instead, it maintained a delightful comic equilibrium. The filmmakers need that deft touch again, or else moviegoers’ heads will actually throb in pain while leaving “Hangover Part II.”