Nice

Actors say the worst co-stars are children and animals.  The original Hangover had a baby and a tiger and the actors, or at least the characters, got their revenge.  One of the protagonists pretends to sexually abuse the baby and then accidentally bangs its little head on a car door.  Someone else pretends to sexually abuse the tiger, which retaliates by savagely mauling him and destroying his classic Mercedes. As the tiger’s owner sarcastically says, “Nice.”

There’s a child and an animal in the sequel too.  The child is that least likable of juveniles, an 16-year-old pre-med at Stanford, but the worst thing anyone ever does to him is compare him to Doogie Howser (who “turned out to be a gay”).  Most of the time he is treated with total solicitude.  The animal is even less likable, that last resort of hack-screen writers: a saucy monkey.  It smokes, it deals drugs, it wears a cute little vest, it thinks it’s a little person! “Nice” is not meant sarcastically any more.

In the scabrous 1984 Bachelor Party, newcomer Tom Hanks played a groom with a hostile, unpleasant future-father-in-law.  He dealt with the situation by arranging to have the father-in-law drugged, tied up, and photographed with a naked prostitute.  In Hangover: Part II, Ed Helms plays a groom with a hostile, unpleasant future-father-in-law.  He deals with the situation by making an inspirational speech about how much he loves the man’s daughter.

You get my point.  For all the movies’s cussing, full-frontal nudity, and cocaine-snorting, director Todd Phillips is just unable to pull the trigger, to risk people not liking his characters.

It starts out well enough.  Phil (Bradley Cooper) insults Stu (Helms) and tries to steal a prescription pad from Stu’s dental office.  Alan (Zach Galifinakis) insults his mother, tries to poison Stu’s brother-in-law, and generally mistreats anyone not in the “wolf-pack”.

Sadly, it soon melts into just a nicey-nicey remake of the first movie.  So often does character, experiencing a crisis in Bangkok almost identical to the one he had back in Vegas in 2009, moan “Again?”, it becomes a meta-textual version of Groundhog Day: every day, the same three men in a different city battle organized crime, heat, and amnesia to find a missing friend; as the credits roll, they peruse photos of their forgotten antics.

No, Hangover II was not terrible.  At times, it’s very very funny — the credit photos alone are almost worth the price of admission.  There’s that rarity, a chase scene that’s actually exciting (although anyone who’s ever been stuck in Bangkok traffic knows how unlikely it is that a driver could get above 20 MPH).  Weirdo gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is back, and his story about meeting his wife is a small classic.

Overall, it wasn’t the Godfather Part II triumph-upon-triumph I was hoping for, but it wasn’t the Jaws 2 travesty I was fearing either.  Rent it when it comes to DVD.

And a new feature: Malvolio’s Nitpicks, because being technically correct is the best way of being correct.

  • The gang travels by speedboat between the resort where the wedding is to take place.  Stu says that the river in Bangkok (the Chao Phraya) connects to the Gulf of Thailand.  Which is true but the establishing shots clearly show the resort is on an island in the Andaman Sea, a good 800 miles away through the Malacca Straits. (Man With The Golden Gun made the same mistake.)
  • They take an elderly and devout monk on a trip in the back of pickup.  The monk is shown leaning against a Thai woman.  In reality, a Theravedan monk would make great effort to avoid touching a woman.  Also, there’s a bouncer-like monk stationed at the monastery, enforcing the rule of silence, even on visitors, by liberal use of a heavy club.  I know this is supposed to be funny, but (a) it’s not and (b) it’s so incompatible with Buddhist dogma, I’m surprised that the Thai cast was even willing to participate in filming it.
  • Stu is a dentist so as part of his training he has taken basic medical courses, including dissecting cadavers; yet, when faced with a person who might be dead from a drug overdose, he doesn’t even attempt to revive the victim and is unwilling even to approach the body.
  • Phil is shot in the arm, but like all movie heroes, suffers not even a temporary loss of mobility or use of the arm.

And a side point: originally, Mel Gibson was cast in a small part but the “cast and crew” — apparently no one had the cojones to be identified by name — objected.  Which was too bad, as Gibson would have been perfect for the role.  The part was filmed with Liam Neeson and then re-filmed with Nick Cassavetes. But what exactly was the complaint?

Both films featured Mike Tyson, a former drug-user convicted of assaults and rapes. When Bill Clinton visited the set, he was greeted warmly, despite his history of drug use, general malfeasance, and sexual harassment, plus creditable accusations of rape.  Mel Gibson has a problem with alcohol and a history of misogyny, but no accusation half so bad as what those other two men have actually been convicted of.  Why the double standard?

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