Tigers love pepper. They hate cinnamon.

I’ve been waiting for the Hangover sequel since, roughly, 10 minutes into my first viewing of the original back in 2009.  Hangover 1 was a terrific movie but it took me a long time to figure out why.

I mean, it was a very funny movie.  I, along with everyone else in the theater, laughed all the way through it.  I’ve re-watched it three or four times and laughed every time.  But I never really thought about what makes it so good until a friend relayed to me something that he’d heard the director Todd Phillips say in an interview: that they were trying to make an anti-Judd Aptow movie.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like Judd Aptow movies, the ones he directs and ones that were just sort of emitted from the Aptowsphere, like Superbad and Bridesmaids.  I even like the weak ones (I’m looking at you, misnamed Funny People).  I think what Phillips was complaining about — and what keeps Aptow’s movies from measuring up to Hangover — is that they pander.

There are scenes in every Aptow movie that just exist as fan-service for some particular demographic.  Like gross-out humor?  Here’s Steve Carrell pissing himself.  Here’s Maya Rudolf succumbing to diarrhea in the middle of a busy street.  Want some heart-warming, gushy stuff?  Here’s Romany Malco weeping over his fear of commitment; Leslie Mann and Eric Bana weeping over the rift in their marriage; Jonah Hill and Michael Cera lying side-by-side and chewing over their hetero-bromance.  Whatever you want from a movie, good old Judd will try his damnedest to make sure you get it.

Not Hangover.  None of the characters is likable: Phil is a thief, Doug is a nonentity, Stu is a wimp, and Alan — well, I don’t know a word for Alan, but whatever you call him, it isn’t “likable”.  Nor do they actually improve much over the course of the movie, thank God.  You like them a bit better and since they’re happier and less alienated, they are less negative, but they’re still awful, awful people.  In a Judd Aptow movie, Mike Tyson would have been cool and friendly, like all the celebrity walk-ons in Funny People.  Instead, he’s a self-involved dick who punches Stu’s lights out just for the hell of it.

The only Aptovian scene in the movie sticks out jaggedly.  Near the end, Stu says goodbye to Jade (Heather Graham) and they talk about their future and it’s supposed to be touching.  How much funnier would it have been if the hooker was homely and snaggle-toothed and was muddily indifferent to Stu’s affection?

Other than that, the movie was about what it was about: three near-strangers who bond while looking for the fourth.   Some really messed-up things happen to them, they find the guy, and they go home, clawed up, sun-poisoned, bloodied, and missing teeth.  And if you don’t like that, you can stay home and whack off to re-runs of Forgetting Sarah Marshall on HBO.

I have awaited Hangover: Part II with something like dread.   It really could be awful.  Sucker Punch awful.  Phantom Menace awful.  I have been assiduously avoiding any sort of reviews or word-of-mouth about the movie, literally at one point covering my ears when co-workers were discussing the movie’s buzz and chanting “La-la-la-la.”  I want my reaction to be pristine.  The curtain goes up in three hours.

Please, guys, don’t mess this up.  Please, nobody “grow” or “learn”.  Don’t have a heart-warming moment.  Don’t stop the movie so someone can cry or vomit.  Don’t be Judd Aptow.

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