Hangover II: Phew, Everyone in Asia Speaks English

05/27/2011 12:01 PM |

The Hangover 2 with Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifaniakis

Hey, it’s Blockbluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart find out during which sorts of movies regular people all over the country are recovering from a hangover. This week they regret joining Todd Phillips’s tour of “fucking Asiatown” in The Hangover Part II.

SUTTON:
So, Henry, a few things have changed since the first episode of Todd Phillips’s day-after dudetectives gross-out comedy: bros Doug (Justin Bartha), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) are in Thailand for the latter’s wedding; the baby has been replaced by an Indiana Jones-y monkey; and the original’s hooker with a heart of gold has been replaced by a hooker with a penis. Thus we get more gay jokes, more offensive caricatures of Asians—including a visit to a monastery that’s the Buddhist equivalent of blasphemous—and more of grown man-children nearly killing a tiny, frail being. Tellingly, though, the monkey eventually leaps into the line of fire, ostensibly to take a bullet for one of the dudes, but more likely to put itself out of this miserable, miserable sequel. I would do the same if I realized the “wolf pack” and I shared so many chromosomes, wouldn’t you?

STEWART:
The most relieving thing about this sequel, Ben, is that it’s not so aligned with Phil’s point of view, and so even though it has liberal critic-baiting jokes about the size of Asian titties (and child prostitution), I felt pretty indifferent about The Hangover Part II. Must be because even the movie is so indifferent. Its most galling feature must be its nihilism: did you notice how careful it is to play both sides of everything? A cello recital is unimpeachably beautiful, but you can also laugh at Galifianakis’ thumbs-down review; Buddhist temples are gorgeous, but they’re also full of hilariously violent kung-fu monks (“buncha bald assholes”); Thailand is too disgusting for the guys to drink anything but American beer, but “this place is also really paradise”; Chow (Ken Jeong) says “nigga” (funny!), someone calls him a racist (oh, right!). The characters have a professed respect for intelligence, talent, racial differences and religion—when Alan confesses a lie, Phil is incredulous: “Alan! You swore to god!”—that they don’t actually live. It’s a conflict between the pussies (represented by Stu) and the badasses (represented by Phil). (Alan is also coded feminine: he calls Doug at night and hangs up, he’s always crying.) But the moral of the story is that both sensibilities are equally important, thus the Tyson tattoo on Stu’s face, an almost-clever visual representation of this duality (think Two-Face). Really, The Hangover Part II is a centrist story of interdependence—bipartisanship, dare I say? Or, an illustration of the complementary natures of femininity and masculinity. Maybe that’s why the movie is so repulsed by homosexuality (accusing someone of it is considered a great insult, as when Alan tells a 16-year-old pre-med student that Doogie Howser grew up to be gay; actually engaging in it is almost enough to make somebody suicidal): because the movie has no faith in man alone. Could there be something pro-woman about this movie after all?

SUTTON:
No, Henry. How can a film that gathers up all its female characters in one location and then spends the entire narrative elsewhere be pro-woman? I think you’re being much too generous mounting a reading of The Hangover Part II as somehow non-sexist because of the way it accommodates non-masculine behavior by its all-male main characters—”pro-feminine,” maybe. If in the inevitable Hangover Part III Phillips turns his attention to the aftermath of a bachelorette party, then we might actually get somewhere. In the meantime, the only non-regressive political stance this Hangover takes is on healthcare: the group is baffled when Phil pays the equivalent of six dollars to stitch up a gunshot wound. In fact, aside from everyone in Thailand speaking English—from the police officers to the transgender strippers—I think the film does a competent job differentiating the overly manicured and stifling beauty of the resort where Stu is to be married from the seedy, sweltering, dangerous and more genuinely exotic intrigue of Bangkok. (We should note that not a single “bang-cock” pun occurs in this film, a fact I find absolutely staggering given that the majority of its jokes are about penises anyway.) In fact, maybe the film goes too far in portraying the squalor of Bangkok (Vegas times ten), over-determining its otherness for our painfully middle-class protags. The movement from the opening scenes’ Americana-edifying suburban comforts—wedding details are exchanged over pancakes at a roadside diner—to the multisensory assault of the Thai megalopolis reminded me of Travis Bickle driving between the Palantine campaign offices uptown and the scum downtown in Taxi Driver or, less flatteringly, the move into scary underground dinosaur land in Ice Age 3. Doesn’t The Hangover Part II just map the first’s conflict between the middle-class and everyone else onto a global stage, pitting developed nation against developing nation?

STEWART:
Ben, I think you missed the bang-cock joke, when the transvestite said something like, “there’s a reason they don’t call it Bangkunt”…unless I misheard. (Also, in the press notes, director Todd Phillips says Bangkok “just sounds like trouble, especially for our guys.”) Anyway, yeah, I thought The Hangover Part II had a subtext about Ugly Americans abroad. Our gang reminded me of Liam Neeson tearing through Taken‘s France, or Decepticons across planet Earth: everywhere they went, with an air of entitlement, they caused widespread destruction, whether with automatic weapons or Molotov cocktails. In return, they’re hated and attacked wherever they go. I almost felt Phillips was consciously pushing this theme, and not just because one of the final images of the movie is a recreation of Eddie Adams’ iconic photo of Nguyên Ngoc Loan. “I’ve done so much fucked-up shit!” Phil, speaking as America, confesses at one point. “I just forget about it.” But some of the characters are aware of their faults, like Stu, with his climactic admission of his core moral failings (though he quickly finds redemption; gah, so American!) Did you notice how dark many of the musical cues were? The opening song’s lyric, “it’s a bad man’s world,” the opening credits’ “it’s gon’ rain down like black hail,” Johnny Cash’s “The Beast in Me,” Nikki Minaj’s verse on “Monster”… you don’t get the impression that Phillips thinks these are people we should look up to.

SUTTON:
Sure, Henry, the dudes’ actions are portrayed as more unapologetically awful here—who steals a monk? who burns down a bar? who shoots up a strip club?—but they’re just as fully redeemed in the end this time as last. If Hangover I was a fantasy of eternal fratboy debauchery, Hangover II is the study abroad equivalent—the Euro Trip to part 1’s Old School, if you will. Our four core dudes escape relatively unscathed (well, save for Phil’s bullet wound, Stu’s tattoo and Alan’s shaved head) while the two non-white members of the group lose much more. Chow is busted by undercover NSA agent Paul Giamatti, and Stu’s brother-in-law-to-be Teddy (Mason Lee) loses a finger—no more cello for him! All of which fits quite nicely with your postcolonial reading, in which foreign oppressors desecrate local customs, rain down destruction and leave the locals to pick up the pieces. That being said, wasn’t the lighting and cinematography beautiful? I can’t think of a prettier gross-out comedy, can you?

STEWART:
Ugh, was it? I think I watched half the movie with my eyes closed because I was so bored. Aside from their misguided political attitudes, the Hangover movies’ most egregious offenses are their tedious constructions: they’re detective fiction of the dullest order, peppered with conspiracy and action-movie cliches. (You know, something for the guys!) The one thing that left me on the edge of my seat was whether, given the setting, they’d use that song from Chess. Just when I figured it’d never happen, there’s Mike Tyson, slurring through “One Night in Bangkok“! It was the first and last time The Hangover would leave me pleasantly surprised.