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.

Advertisements

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis, RZA

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer(s): Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freeland, Adam Sztykiel, Todd Phillips

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 100 mins.

For Todd Phillips it was a no-brainer that he follow “biggest R-Rated comedy of all time” The Hangover with another film starring that film’s break-out star Zach Galifianakis that the film wasn’t an immediate sequel to The Hangover is perhaps the bigger surprise. Thankfully Due Date is a film that allows Galifianakis to take centre stage alongside one of the current greats in Robert Downey Jr. and it allows both actors to stretch themselves, maybe not out of the norm fully but enough to see that in particular Galifianakis is capable of doing much more than the man-child schtick seen in The Hangover and any bit-parts that have followed. Similarly Downey’s role allows for something more than the likeable character actor he has morphed into in the wake of Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, here he is a man full of vitriol with little patience especially given his current situation…

So to the plot, and it is pure Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the noughties and beyond, it doesn;t take a genius to figure out who is taking on which role, but the comedy here is mind a little deeper than it was in that 80’s classic with a lot more edge (read darkness) as is seemingly required of Hollywood films nowadays. Thrown together after a plane based mishap with the words “terrorist” and “bomb” being bandied about and the misuse of a Blackberry, an escapade that is simply the start of many escalating dilemmas that take in all manner of people, vehicles and at one point a gun. That these men aren’t immediately likeable adds to the depth of the film, and much like The Hangover they are men who you learn to love despite their foibles, it’s a hard task to make you like unlikable men but Phillips has a knack for winning us over, with a great deal of help from two of Hollywood’s current most charismatic leads.

Galifianakis is the heart and soul of Due Date, more different to his Hangover counterpart than many would admit too, his is a performance full of heart and child-like hope. Ethan Tremblay is an aspiring actor heading to Hollywood via, a hopeful, visit to scatter his father’s ashes somewhere poignant, there is an obvious level of predictability to some of the turns taken but it surprises and takes enough unexpected diversions to prove more than just a knock off of a better film with a similar concept. The set pieces match performance for both originality and entertainment value, the standout proving to be a crash/pileup to rival anything Michael Bay has provided us with.

It’s the smaller, and usually funnier, moments however that really make Due Date fly and raise it above your average knock-about comedy though when you hire someone as capable and versatile as Downey Jr. what do you expect. Peter (Downey Jr.) is initially a deeply unlikable man who seems to care only for himself, even in respect to getting back to his wife. This level of sheer nastiness means he is a character who can punch a child and spit in the face of a dog without becoming the villain of the piece, and turn the guy around to become something approaching a respectable human being with the help of Ethan. The conclusion isn’t quite as cutesy as you may well expect and thankfully an early red-herring that reeks of cliché (the undiscovered note) doesn’t pan out as expected leading to a great moment of truth that is both heart-warming and real due to an unexpected revelation at the (not man-made) Grand Canyon.

If there is a weakness it is in the effort to “jazz up” proceedings with the support, Monaghan is wasted with their minimal screen-time reduced to holding her bump and talking on the phone, and even Foxx fails to make any impact even if he is on screen during one of the funniest scenes involving someones ashes since The Big Lebowski. On the other end of the scale is McBride who is wasted in the sense of just being truly bad, OTT in a way the rest of the film avoids it is only Phillips himself along with Lewis that provide anything beyond simply showing up or over-acting. These though can be over-looked considering the minimal appearances and the focus never fails to shift back to Ethan and Peter’s oddly touching interplay, Due Date 2…it’s as welcome a prospect as The Hangover 2!

VERDICT

Todd Phillips knows how to direct a funny set piece but much more than that he can coax great comedy performances that are tinged with pathos from actors at the top of their game, this makes Due Date one of the years most entertaining film’s and one with a little more heart than you might expect.

Robert Downey Jr. has signed up for the Todd Phillips comedy Due Date, which already stars Zack Galifianakis. Yes, the hottest comedy star of last summer (in Tropic Thunder) is joining the hottest comedy star of this summer (in The Hangover) for what we’re guessing could be a pretty hot comedy as early as next summer.

Due to shoot this September in Atlanta, Arizona and LA, the film sees Downey Jr. cast as a father-to-be who’s racing to get home for the birth of his child, along with Galifianakis’ mismatched travelling companion. Phillips describes it as a “buddy comedy without the buddies”, so think Planes, Trains and Automobiles with birth instead of Thanksgiving at the end of it.

The script was written by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland, and revised by Scrabble-winning scribe Adam Sztykiel.