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The Great Train Robbery

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The Hangover Part II is lewder and ruder than The Hangover, but it’s more remake than sequel. And it should go without saying that, like its predecessor, Part II is not for everybody’s taste.

It Happened One Night... Again

A monkey joins the wolfpack
A monkey joins the wolfpack

Like The Hangover, Part II starts at the tail end of a really bad situation and works its way back to the beginning.

This time it’s Stu’s turn to walk down the aisle. The dentist (Ed Helms, Cedar Rapids) has somehow managed to snag a really hot Thai chick, Lauren (Jamie Chung, Sucker Punch), as his bride to be. In an attempt to win over her disapproving father, he’s planned to stage the wedding in Thailand. Of course he’s invited his best buds, Phil (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) and Doug (Justin Bartha, National Treasure) to the affair. What about Alan (Zach Galifianakis, G-Force), the creepy “stay at home son” with an oddball fixation with juveniles? Yeah, that guy needs to stay home.

Well, that was Stu’s plan. But Alan is still mentally in Vegas, a part of the wolfpack that shot to notoriety in the first Hangover. Showing some softness, Stu makes the critical mistake of letting Alan come along.

As is expected, things go downhill the night before the wedding. Downhill rapidly.

A low-key campfire and a six-pack of bottled beer on the beach leads to a night of debauchery that makes the Vegas hangover look like kid’s play.

One Night in Bangkok

In all fairness, Part II benefits slightly from a modestly tighter story set in a more challenging environment. After all, setting a story of debauchery in Las Vegas is like shooting fish in a barrel, but the first episode was marred by a lot of random bits that had no logical explanation other than the guys were drunk and stuff happened. Witness all the random bits, like the poultry and inflatables, in the guys’ Vegas palatial suite, for instance.

At least this time around, while the exact same formula is followed, the disparate elements are explained with a little more – shocker – clarity. That’s not to confuse clarity with credulity. Alas, this is the kind of sequel that would’ve worked better had its predecessor not existed and this road hadn’t already been traveled.

While the characters are taken to a new place, another magic ingredient in truly successful sequels - not necessarily commercially, but artistically - is to put the characters in new situations as well. Character development is another key. That’s something poor Stu should know by now. In Bangkok he goes through the same cycle of put-upon to liberation that he went through in Vegas.

Where Part II seeks to stake out new ground is in the vulgarity. There’s loads of full-frontal shemale nudity and the raunchiness digs deep, going so low as to exploit a Buddhist monk and put him in sexual situations that are thoroughly inappropriate. When the movie goes there, it’s not funny, it’s sad.

Iron Mike and the Downeaster Alexa

There’s a lot of that “been there, done that” feeling in Part II.

Instead of misplacing the groom, the guys misplace the bride’s brother. Instead of a luxurious Vegas suite, the guys contend with a dive. Instead of female prostitutes, the guys inadvertently philander with shemales. Instead of Stu losing a tooth, he gains a tattoo. Instead of Tyson singing Genesis, he sings Chess.

And so on.

Well, there is one instance in which Part II one-ups the original. It’s Stu’s song. Instead of singing about dreaming tigers, this time he sings a Weird Al Yankovic-style version of Allentown. Billy Joel is one of Alan’s favorite musical artists, right up there with the Jonas Brothers.  Alantown is a very funny bit that recaps the wolfpack’s Thai adventure, set to Joel’s classic song of American hardship.

And this time around Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, Pineapple Express) actually turns out to be a relatively sympathetic character, in a vile sort of way. What’s he doing in Thailand, well he’s Alan’s “+1.”

The Art and Science of Film

When Raiders of the Lost Ark was released 30 years ago this summer, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg described it as a filmmaking experiment. They wanted to see how much information people could process when presented with a story told at a rapid-fire pace.

Looking back on it, that notion seems quaint given all the movies that have followed. Movies these days throw all sorts of stuff out there at such a breakneck pace most action movies seem designed to keep those with ADD from nodding off. Pure storytelling sensibilities have been thrown out the window.

With The Hangover Part II it seems like the conversation among the brain trust behind this pastiche were discussing an experiment in desensitization. How low can we go? What is the limit on the bad taste meter in 2011? Maybe they should’ve also asked themselves, “Will we be proud of this movie?”

It’ll be interesting to see how The Hangover Part II plays in 2041. No doubt Raiders will look like a movie shot in slow motion. Perhaps this flick’s crassness will be perceived as sheer innocence, nothing more than a Porky’s 30 years later.