Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Giamatti, Jamie Chung, Nick Cassavettes

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer(s): Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 102 Mins.

It’s very rare for a sequel to outdo its original, Toy Story 2, Aliens and most prolifically The Godfather: Part 2 are always touted as bettering their first entries. The latter of which Todd Phillips has acknowledged as a benchmark to measure up to in sequel terms with his comedy surprise smash hit of two summer’s back, The Hangover. Let’s face it there was likely a hint of wry sarcasm in that comment however it doesn’t forgive the director/writer for churning out a film that is less a sequel and more a premature remake, switching the debauched Las Vegas for somewhere even more grimy, Bangkok. Yes this allows for the “bigger is better” mantra that is often applied in the “rules of sequels” handbook but the sheer laziness of plotting does have a tendency to irk.

So, much like last time around (too much so) there is an impending wedding, this time it is Stu’s (Helms) and the guys set about having a quiet bachelor brunch, this then moves to a quiet drink on the beach followed by the blackout and the titular hangover. This, as last time, leaves Stu, Phill (Cooper) and Alan (Galifianakis) traipsing around Bangkok in search of answers and the bride-to-be’s lost brother. Yes some characters are switched fr the purpose of not being a total remake, as are plot elements but having a monkey rather than a Tiger and a an elderly monk rather than a baby won’t fool anyone with half a brain cell. These guys have a formula that worked, wonderfully, and have no intention of veering too far from it. Though this leads me to comedy sequels in general, they aren’t that abundant and as Will Ferrell will testify with Anchorman or Ben Stiller with Zoolander, raising the cash is hard especially if the sequel idea is different from the premise that garnered the originals box office buck. The  Hangover: Part 2 was a no-brainer really, the idea of men piecing together a wild night of drunken antics in other locales is ripe for sequel ideas, that plot thrust alone providing opportunity but actual points that leave no surprise are more of an issue.

Thankfully now I have cleared up the lack of ambition in terms of plot I can get to the important bits, the laughs. So where plot hits the same beats so to does the laugh quota (almost), it lacks a couple of that films better set pieces (the casino, the chapel) but makes way for some hilarious (and inevitable) episodes with ladyboys and a monastery, though not at once, that would just be wrong! Alan’s screen time is bumped up more and we learn more about him and despite going through the (plot) motions what a sequel allows time for is to appreciate these very well written comedy characters, the wolf pack is back and make the most of their second adventure to build on friendships in a non-cheesey way but still sincere. Doug in particular gets to be more than two-dimensions of characterisation, and if Phill is still just the sleazy-womanizer he does it well enough that it doesn’t really matter.

Filling out the cast is Mr. Chow, also in an expanded role, providing enough laughs to make his return a welcome one, less so if Justin Bartha, the guy is great at comedy yet he simply sits on the sidelines when his involvement in the nights machinations would have been welcome and added a new dimension and something a little fresher to something that will quickly become stale if yet another identikit film is wrought from the exact same premise.  Also Teddy is a forgettable cipher to set the wheels in motion, not really given anything more to do than act out his “prodigal son” role, the much vaunted role of the tattoo artist who was once meant to be Mel Gibson then Liam Neeson is simply there for exposition and Paul Giamatti pops up for a needless subplot that mirrors that of Chow in the original, such a shame given the man’s comedy credentials.

As with the original the film is well shot and photographed for a comedy, grounded in a real world of grime and smut it is lit more like a thriller than a comedy, befitting of the seedy and smutty jokes, talking of which nothing is deemed sacred. As expected the comedy depths are mined, in the best possible way of course, these men have no taste (again in the best possible way) meaning that the aforementioned ladyboys turn up for the biggest laughs, the monkey smokes and that’s just the start of it! So overall The Hangover: Part 2 does as a comedy should, a good one at that, gives us characters we love and a constant flow of jokes, some of which are chuckles with other (and more often) full-blown belly laughs…really could have done without Mike Tyson and his very much unfunny ballad!

VERDICT

The Hangover: Part 2 is more remake than sequel, sticking excruciatingly close to its forebear. Thank god then that it is very nearly just as funny, even without the surprise and originality of the first, some testament to how well written The Wolfpack are.

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Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Rob Corddry, Stephen Root, Sigourney Weaver

Director: Miguel Arteta

Writer(s): Phil Johnston

Cinematography: Chuy Chavek

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 87 Mins.

“If you liked The Hangover, you’ll love this” raves the poster for Cedar Rapids, indeed if you have seen any of the trailers or adverts for the film you will likely expect just that, another Hangover-like bawdy boys-own comedy that embraces that most current of trends, bromance. Alas this is just another case of misdirection in an effort to build on that film’s success, given that it stars Ed Helms (Stu from The Hangover) to advertise it as such was really a no-brainer to try to get the audience flocking in droves and have the cash registers ringing. It is a strategy which has failed, badly, across the pond it disappeared without a trace while it will likely follow suit now it has found a release here, maybe the audience is too savvy to fall for marketing ploys (unlikely) or maybe (and more likely) word-of-mouth has put most movie-goers straight, Cedar Rapids really isn’t that funny.

This is not to say that it is a failure, I don’t think that the makers set out to craft a comedy and certainly not a bawdy one though one element does go against this concept and that is John C. Reilly, moving quite some distance away from the character he played in Cyrus, Dean Ziegler is overbearing, obnoxious and loud but obviously a loveable oaf after all is said and done the thing is his mugging comedy jars with the rest of the film and feels although this is a role meant for some other much funnier laugh out loud premise. Around him everyone else plays it (relatively) straight, and not just straight but largely toned down to drama-level performance, no-one show boats and bar a sojourn to a drug fuelled party and a late night swimming pool romp the tone and plotting it low-key, so low key in fact that Cedar Rapids really is more indie drama than comedy.

Sadly it is in this confusion that the whole thing doesn’t gel, Helms proves he can act and Reilly demonstrates he can be very funny (once more), Anne Heche reminds us what a good actress she is and Whitlock Jr. riffs on his role in The Wire (an odd place to find such a running joke) all the more strange given the hugely different audience demographic for The Wire and this. All of which begs the question who is this film for? I quite simply don’t know, and as solidly well acted as it is each character is not much fun (bar Reilly), the direction rather limp and lifeless creating a stagnant mood and a very slow 87 minutes, while the colour saturation makes the proceedings closer in look to a social realist drama!!!

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the cameo appearances by Sigourney Weaver (wasted and bizarre a choice as Helms love interest) and an equally underused Rob Corddry who can be very funny but barely registers, with a plot concerning insurance sales that eventually tries to make a comment on society, and such other heavy themes, by which point you will have been likely bored and/or confounded at how much of a mess the film becomes. Director Arteta’s last film had a similarly mixed take on seemingly foolproof material (he has Ed Helms and John C. Reilly on a weekend getaway for gods sake!) yet in Youth In Revolt at least some of the elements worked, here his best efforts can’t over-ride the simply bungled efforts of a studio reaching for financial success and a writer striving for poignancy in comedy.

VERDICT

Sadly Cedar Rapids isn’t even in the same genre as The Hangover, hard as the poster would want us to believe such a comment, it is instead a strange hybrid of drama and indie comedy that manages to fail on both counts with the only plus point being a very funny (but oddly out-of-place) turn from the ever reliable John C. Reilly.

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Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer(s): Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 100 Mins.

Todd Phillips is a director long been doing the comedy circuit, yet it is only now, with the release of The Hangover, that he is getting the plaudits he so clearly deserves in ranking nicely alongside the Judd Apatow’s of the comedy world. Having previously made Old School, Road Trip and Starsky and Hutch which were, incidentally, all hugely under-rated and overlooked in favour of more populist choices i.e. American Pie, and Anchorman.

Phillips had a minor blip however with 2007’s remake of the british comedy School For Scoundrels, decidedly un-funny and equally poorly recieved Phillips seemed forever to remain in the doldrums, until he teamed up with writers Lucas and Moore whose roster includes Four Christmas’s and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, not quite the comedic dream team then but low and behold they might have just put out the comedy of the year…alongside I, Love You Man.

This comparison is no mere coincidence as both comedies share the current theme for very blatant “bromance”, it is in this concept that comedy gold is being constantly mined, as the writers and directors can see a heart in their characters amongst all the, very funny, rude crude jokes. This is by no means a new thing but something which seemed to get lost alot during the 90’s where smut simply became a concept through and through.

So, onto The Hangover, which cleverly drops the usual stag night in Vegas in favour of exploring the titular hangover on the morning after the night before, avoiding the usual and all too often used cheap jokes of the stag night comedy (see Very Bad Things…or don’t) The Hangover follows three friends (Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis) as they try to piece together what happened on said stag night, the catch is they have no recollection of anything due to being accidentally drugged with Rufalin aka roofies (the date rape drug)

To reveal what the guys discover upon waking up, and through the course of the day, would be to rob the film of its out and out hilarity though I think the test of a true comedy is to be able to watch it twice and find it equally, if not more funny, and The Hangover on both counts succeeded, with honours! It is the largely unknown Galifianakis who is bound to be most loved, exhibiting the kind of stupid(but hilarious)  innocence that Steve Carrell did as Brick in Anchorman, and I wouldn’t mind betting his career more than equals Carrell’s successes for sheer likeability.

But it is, as with I, Love You Man, the relationship between the guys that make The Hangover such a joy, it’s as if your watching your friends suffer the hangover from hell and not actors, of course it helps that they are all relative unknowns so the stigma that comes with the usual suspects like Vince Vaughan and Will ferrell and aren’t present. Cooper, who I would predict very big things for (he has just been cast in The A Team remake), is a cocky teacher who wouldn’t think twice about stealing from students to fund his trip, yet somehow you empathise with him, hell you want to be his friend making Alan’s (Galifianakis) attempts at doing just that even more touching, in the funniest possible way of course. 

If there are criticisms to be levelled they would have to be at the support who really struggle to live up to the standards delivered by the core triumvate! Heather Graham barely registers in the tart-with a heart role and Mike Tyson’s presence, although sniggersome, jars and I was simply left wondering “why?”, and as a sub-plot involving gangsters entered the fray I began to think we were headed for the dreaded latter third comedic slump. But in a Rin Man spoof the funnies just continued to get bigger, The Hangover well adn truly passed the comedic litmus test, with flying colours!     

VERDICT

Funny, throughout, from start to finish, if that isn’t an A* comedic endorsement I don’t know what is, but there is heart and whole lot of bromance to be found in The Hangover which nudges it to the top of the Summer film pile, showing that you really dont need giant robots or superheroes to make a great film!

 grade-b+