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Is “The Hangover Part II” a “Good” Sequel?

Is “The Hangover Part II” a “Good” Sequel? (photo)

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What makes a good sequel?

Steven Zeitchik wrote an interesting piece earlier this week in The Los Angeles Times crediting the box office success of “The Hangover Part II” to its “lack of originality.” In essence, he says that the most successful comedy sequels are the ones that hew closest to their predecessors. His article begins, “The raised eyebrows started pretty much the moment the trailer hit the Web.” When the trailer for “The Hangover Part II” hit the Web at the beginning of April, I wrote the following in a post about the often dubious use of the phrase “Part 2” in sequel titles:

“The trailer makes it look less like a continuation than a rehash. The location is different but the characters, narrative gimmick, and Ed Helms facial disfiguration gags are all the same. That could still make an interesting sequel if the finished film plays up the nightmarish, almost ‘Twilight Zone’-esque quality of these men’s lives. Will it acknowledge the fact that they seem almost karmically doomed to repeat the same awful misadventures over and over again? I kind of hope so.”

With the movie now in wide release, it’s clear that while my hopes were dashed, the trailer was an accurate depiction of the finished film. If it was inaccurate at all, it was in not fully representing just how faithful “The Hangover Part II” is to “The Hangover.” Contrary to what star Zach Galifianakis said in interviews prior to production about the sequel having “nothing to do with the bachelor party,” and that the scenario would involve the Wolf Pack getting “kind of kidnapped,” it absolutely does and they absolutely don’t. In fact, almost every single plot point from the first film appears in the second one: a forgotten night of debauchery, a friend missing, altercations with drug dealers, sex with prostitutes, incongruous animal sidekicks, and Mike Tyson.

Given the extreme degree to which it recycles elements of the first film, you could almost make the case for “The Hangover Part II” on the grounds that it is an experimental film. As I sit here writing, I’m actually having trouble thinking of elements from the first “Hangover” that don’t appear in the sequel; the only one jumping immediately to mind is the fact that Ed Helms’ character doesn’t fall for the hooker he sleeps with this time around. The following video mashup does a nice job of illustrating the similarities, by placing the aforementioned “Hangover Part II” trailer side-by-side with corresponding images from the first film.

As Zeitchik notes, most of the critical discourse around “The Hangover Part II” has focused around the borderline shocking degree to which it is just Mad Libs version of “Part I.” A quick scan of the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page reveals almost as much repetition as you’ll find in the film itself. “I can’t believe how precisely everything does happen again, except that what was fresh and surprising in Las Vegas turns rancid and predictable in Bangkok,” says Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal. “Trade out Las Vegas for Bangkok, a tiger for a monkey, a lactating hooker for a trannie stripper, a missing tooth for a face tattoo, and you’ve got Todd Phillips’s rote, dispiriting replica of his own surprise smash hit,” says Eric Hynes from The Village Voice. In his review, Richard Roeper proclaims that “rarely has a sequel been so lazy, obvious, such a flat out copy of the first film.”

The film certainly is a copy. But is it really that rare? “The Hangover Part II” reminded me of a lot of horror sequels, particularly long-running and heavily codified franchises like “Friday the 13th” or “Final Destination.” Genre connoisseurs come back to these movies time and time again for their faithful adherence to formula: Jason Voorhees will come back from the dead, he will wear his hockey mask, and he will kill people in incredibly violent and incredibly creative ways. True, there have been some variations, but most are cosmetic; flinging Jason into outer space so he can slaughter hotties there isn’t that much different than transplanting “The Hangover” from Vegas to Bangkok. When horror sequels stray too far from their core, they’re usually flops. See “Halloween III,” the only movie in the series that didn’t feature Michael Myers.

Why are there different standards for horror and comedy sequels? You can’t say that comedy is different from horror because jokes depend on surprise — so do horror films. We watch great comedies over and over, savoring the stars’ delivery, memorizing our favorite jokes. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve seen “Blazing Saddles” or “The Naked Gun.” Earlier this week I was laughing out loud at “Stripes” a film I’ve seen many times. Repetition and ritualization is part of the fun of great comedy. So what’s the problem with repeating and ritualizing it in the form of a movie like “The Hangover Part II?”

I agree: the fact that Phil, Stu, and Alan undergo the exact same misadventures is impossible and ridiculous. But it’s no more impossible or ridiculous than John McClane getting into three more days just as bad as his worst day ever in the first “Die Hard.” Isn’t it weird that terrorists love to attack the things in closest proximity to John McClane? Do we care? I certainly don’t; I just like seeing Bruce Willis badass it up.

What we’re talking about here is the fundamental nature of sequels. Should sequels be bold, original undertakings or should they provide the audience with more of what they liked in the first movie? Is a good sequel like or unlike the movie that spawned it? This, I think, is a matter of personal opinion and taste. Some people love “Evil Dead II” which is so similar to “The Evil Dead” that it’s almost a remake. Some people prefer “Army of Darkness” which transposes the series’ hero to medieval times and replaces most of the horror with Three Stooges-esque physical comedy.

“The Hangover” had a very clever premise and a unique comic mystery structure. You could argue that its uniqueness was what made it so successful. In that case, maybe the only true sequel to “The Hangover” is one as unique as the first film — say, the boys have another night out on the town but this time they get brutally murdered and it’s up to their girlfriends and wives to solve the crime. Or you might argue that what made “The Hangover” a hit was the particular chemistry of the actors — Bradley Cooper’s smarm, Ed Helms’ spoiled innocence, Galifianakis’ inspired idiocy. We loved spending time with those guys in that booze and pill-fueled fog. In that case, “The Hangover Part II” is the perfect sequel, since it reunites the entire cast and provides them a forum to do the things we enjoyed watching them do the first time around.

Do I think “The Hangover Part II” is a good movie? Not really. Do I think it’s a good sequel? After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it is. It is not a great sequel on the level of “The Godfather Part II” or “The Empire Strikes Back” — sequels that truly continue the stories and expand the universes of their first films — but it is a satisfying one on its own terms. You might subjectively say that the jokes aren’t funny; I thought a lot of them were (I also appreciated the fact that the movie was a lot bleaker and sadder than the first “Hangover,” and probably as close as I’ll ever get to my dreams of “Twilight Zone”-y nightmarishness). No, it’s not an original comedic vision. But it delivers what it promises: more of the same. And since it’s already grossed almost $150 million in just one week of release, outstanding for an R-rated comedy, I think you can expect a lot more of the same in the future.

Did you like “The Hangover Part II?” Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.