THE HANGOVER PART II
Over the course of the countless years that I've served as a film critic, never I have received such an outpouring of venomous reader feedback as when I dared to pan 2009's smash hit The Hangover. Doubtless unaware of my love for such raunchy and decidedly non-P.C. titles as There's Something About Mary, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and pretty much anything by Mel Brooks, I was quickly tagged a "pretentious snob" and a "wannabe intellectual" (oh, and let's not forget the all-purpose "tool") for not busting a gut when, say, Zach Galifianakis's bare ass filled the screen or during any of the film's other desperate jabs at meaningful vulgarity.
(My favorite G-rated reader putdown: "Am I to assume that you sit in mod-style coffee houses listening to beat poets silently musing how you can knock down the mainstream movie viewers down another notch?" To answer: It depends. Is someone else springing for my coffee?)
So if you're one of those who consider The Hangover the greatest comedy ever made -- heck, maybe even the greatest movie ever made -- then this review might prove to be entirely useless, as The Hangover Part II stands a wonderful chance of earning your vote as the second greatest comedy ever made. Then again, it's entirely possible you might recognize the sheer laziness that defines this cash-grabbing sequel. Now, of course the bottom line for every sequel is to further line studio coffers, but many follow-ups at least make some sort of effort.
Take this week's other sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 -- flawed though it may be, at least there's a sense that its creators took pride in what ended up on screen. But even more than the latest Pirates of the Caribbean romp, The Hangover Part II displays an alarming lack of originality and drive, in essence merely copying the exact same gags, scenarios and, unbelievably, occasional camera shots from the original. It isn't as mean-spirited or misogynistic as its predecessor, and there are a couple more chuckles, but otherwise, the only way future generations will be able to tell the pair apart is that one's set in Las Vegas while the other takes place in Bangkok.
In this outing, Stu (Ed Helms, again the MVP among this motley crew) heads to Thailand to get married and takes buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and, with much reluctance, Alan (the perennially annoying Galifianakis, simply not my cup of comedic tea) with him. It's deja vu all over again, as Phil, Stu and Alan party late and wake up the next morning with no idea of what transpired the night before. Stu has a tattoo on his face, his future brother-in-law (Mason Lee) is missing, and a cigarette-smoking monkey is hanging out in their hotel room.
The effeminate Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) returns from the first picture, and there's a cameo appearance (no prize for guessing who) by a celebrity who pops up to mangle the Chess piece "One Night In Bangkok." Liam Neeson was supposed to appear as a tattoo artist (first choice Mel Gibson was quickly nixed), but his busy schedule resulted in Nick Cassavetes landing the gig. Personally, I think a better choice would have been Nicolas Cage, who not only starred in a movie called Bangkok Dangerous but has repeatedly demonstrated that he'll appear in anything as long as the check clears.
Those yearning for some summertime bawdiness at the movies would be well-advised to check out Bridesmaids instead, as any random scene in that picture is better than anything on display in The Hangover Part II. Besides, considering the high cost of tickets, dropping dough on that alternative expenditure means there will be less chance that you'll hate yourself in the morning.
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Hollywood's obsession with 3-D -- or, more accurately, the extra bucks it generates -- is so out of hand that it would hardly surprise me to learn that 3-D remakes of Scenes from a Marriage and My Dinner with Andre are in the works. Yet for all of its uselessness when it comes to live-action films not named Avatar, the gimmick is a logical fit when it comes to animated efforts, as witnessed by its employment in (among others) Toy Story 3, Despicable Me and now Kung Fu Panda 2.
Yet it isn't just that extra dimension that elevates this agreeable sequel to the 2008 blockbuster. As was the case with this spring's Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 displays a terrific set design that's atypically detailed and vibrant for a toon flick. Whereas it was ace cinematographer Roger Deakins (True Grit) who served as visual consultant on that Johnny Depp vehicle, here it's Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro who's billed as creative consultant, clear examples of studios not cutting corners when it comes to acquiring the best. KFP2's backgrounds are frequently so gorgeous to behold that aspiring art directors might further pad the film's box office haul via repeat viewings.
Everyone else will probably be satisfied after one showing, as the serviceable story finds Po (returning star Jack Black) again teaming up with the kung fu masters collectively known as The Furious Five (Angelina Jolie and her underused co-stars Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross), this time to vanquish a deadly enemy (Gary Oldman) who holds the key to Po's mysterious past. The kids will have a good time, and the adults will be entertained to the point that they won't secretly be wondering what R-rated film is playing in the adjacent auditorium.