By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Hangover,” from 2009, brought new lows to the treasured American tradition of the raunchy, slimy, morally corrupt R-rated comedy.
In the tradition of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “Risky Business,” it presented young affluent American men behaving very, very badly and generating enormous laughs in the process. It also made a surprise star out of a hairy, overweight fellow named Zach Galifianakis, whose character, Alan Garner, generated most of the chaos — always denying, in the yelping voice of a spoiled child, that he’d done even the slightest thing wrong.
“The Hangover: Part II” finds the familiar cast in a familiar predicament but a new setting in Thailand. Here, Stu Price (played by Ed Helms) plans to wed his beautiful young fiancée Lauren (Korean American actress Jamie Chung). His best friend, the stylish ladies’ man Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper), naturally goes along.
Garner (Zach Galifianakis) is pointedly not invited. But Alan, being Alan, whines and mopes in his trademark passive-aggressive manner, until the others bring him along — a decision they’ll regret.
As before, our merry men find themselves drugged, by Alan. They wake up the next morning in a seedy Bangkok hotel far from the ritzy resort reserved for the wedding. A crucial member of their party — the bride’s younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) — is missing. Since Teddy and Lauren’s very rich and very strict father loves Teddy more than Lauren, or anybody else, the others must find him or face ruin.
A crucial player from the first film returns for an even more important part in the sequel. This is Dr. Ken Jeong as Leslie Chow, a flamboyant cocaine dealer and international criminal.
In real life, Jeong holds a medical degree from the University of Chapel Hill at Carolina. You would never guess this by watching his performance as Chow, however. Howling, cackling, drug-snorting, and often naked or nearly so, Leslie Chow is the most dynamic character onscreen here. When he disappears for a few reels, the film’s energy begins to flag.
As the fiancée, Jamie Chung appears quite beautiful, although she isn’t given much to do except look worried. The city of Bangkok itself, and its surroundings, appear much more significant than some of the flesh-and-blood players.
The wedding resort appears pretty as a postcard. So do some of the time-lapse shots of the city at night. But a “Hangover” movie concerns itself with the lower impulses of humanity. And Bangkok has plenty of that to show.
The city’s infamous sex industry figures in the film’s action. More pervasive, though, are the constant shots of crowded avenues, taxis, fruit carts, and street markets.
Power outages, from an overworked grid serving a population of 9.1 million, happen frequently. Local residents seem to shrug at these conditions, although the film’s hapless Americans never know how to manage. A surprising sequence at a Buddhist monastery on the outskirts of the scene adds both martial arts violence and gentle reflection to the action.
The characters in “The Hangover” will never learn the adult lessons of responsibility, moderation, and humility. Their underlying narcissism prevents that. On top of which, of course, the movies no longer inspire laughter. But, so long as we can feel superior to Alan and the others, we can accept them as clowns. A more mature film, or a more mature audience, might ask if people like them exist in real life. In the meantime, enjoy the scenery, the chuckles, and the transsexual strippers. ♦
“The Hangover: Part II” opens Thursday, May 26, in Seattle. Check local listings for theaters, prices, and showtimes.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.