Welcome to We Can Fix It, a new series from Crave Online that offers constructive criticism to disappointing movies instead of just hurling hilariously phrased insults in their direction. If you’re just looking for movie recommendations, look elsewhere. In We Can Fix It we take a hard look at the movies that let us down and reverse-engineer them to figure out what went wrong and how it could have been avoided. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes. This week: The Hangover: Part II.
Before you start saying how hilarious it was and support your argument with impressive box office numbers, remember that there’s more to a movie than kneejerk reactions and financial success. That may be enough for the money men, but if you look beyond the penises and impressive grosses The Hangover: Part II suffers from a very simple problem that everyone seems to agree on… It’s just The Hangover: Part I all over again. And that’s not something we want from our sequels, unless you actually prefer Home Alone 2: Lost in New York to the original Home Alone.
Let’s take a quick rundown of some of the similarities (SERIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD):
1. Both films are about the exact same group of guys who are drugged in the exact same way just before one of them gets married.
2. Both films open with a phone call, in which they are about to admit their defeat at a moment when all seems lost, after which the rest of the movie is told in flashback.
3. Both films find our heroes awaking in a hotel room filled with clues, a wild animal and a small, lovable creature Zach Galifianakis learns to care for after an epic night of debauchery (a tiger and a baby in the original… the monkey serves both functions in the sequel).
4. Both films feature the protagonists retracing their steps to locate a missing friend.
5. Both films feature Ed Helms awaking with a surprisingly mutilated face (a missing tooth in the original, Mike Tyson’s tattoo in the sequel).
6. Both films find Ed Helms cheating on his significant other with a prostitute.
7. Both films feature the protagonists attempting to exchange ill-gotten goods for the missing friend, only to find that their friend is somewhere else entirely.
8. Both films end when location of their missing friend is pieced together at the last minute, and once revealed it becomes clear that they never even needed to retrace their steps in the first place.
9. Both films have extremely similar circumstances explaining the location of said lost friend.
10. Mike Tyson.
We could go on like this, but let’s move forward now.
What seems to be frustrating critics and audiences alike about The Hangover: Part II isn’t that it isn’t funny, but that it feels pretty lazy in the storytelling department. Here we offer a few helpful suggestions that could have made The Hangover: Part II into a film everybody could have enjoyed. Understanding the need to adhere to a previous formula, these ideas could have retained the feel of the original without actually remaking it by mostly focusing on the characters themselves.
1. DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY
Okay, that’s a cheap shot. Let’s get a little more specific.
2. MIX UP THE GROUP DYNAMIC
The Hangover: Part II really hit its stride once Ken Jeong was allowed into the mix, but that was more than halfway through the movie. Until then everyone acted more or less like they did in the first one: Ed Helms was a stuffed shirt who was shocked at his actions the night before, Zach Galifianakis was psychologically disturbed and just wanted to be liked and Bradley Cooper had nothing to do. Neither did Justin Bartha either, which is really weird since he wasn’t the guy who went missing the second time.
The movie could have taken the curse of sequelitis off of itself very easily by adding fresh or even old blood into the mix from the start. Justin Bartha was pretty funny in National Treasure and Ken Jeong’s just plain hilarious, and including either or both of them throughout the second act would have prevented Helms, Cooper and Galifianakis from repeatedly asking how the exact same thing could have happened to them twice, since at least somebody in the cast wouldn’t find the situation old hat.
It’s weird that the makers of The Hangover: Part II didn’t attempt this since they teased it at the start of the film. Justin Bartha doesn’t go missing this time, but he’s sidelined throughout the entire movie anyway when he could have been put to better use in the A-Plot. And Ken Jeong wakes up with them after their drunken adventure, but rather than allow him to play the x-factor in the group dynamic throughout the film they use him for a quick throwaway joke before literally throwing his character away for the bulk of the film. If either of them had been allowed to run amok, the decisions made throughout the film wouldn’t have seemed like foregone conclusions. They could have contributed new and interesting ideas to the act of solving the mystery, and offered a fresh outlook on the old Hangover situation by virtue of simply not having done it before.
3. GIVE BRADLEY COOPER SOMETHING TO DO
Bradley Cooper broke out in a big way after The Hangover, which is weird because aside from being the attractive straight man he didn’t have much to do the first time. Strangely, he doesn’t have much to do in the sequel either. It’s weird because the rare glimpses we get of his character are intriguing: he’s married, has a child, but steals prescription pads for recreational drug use anyway. Who is this guy? We could have found out. Ken Jeong got more to do this time because he was a breakout character. Oddly, Cooper has nothing to do despite being one of the breakout actors. He didn’t need to drive the plot, since Ed Helms has that covered, but despite taking the starring role Helms’s character doesn’t go through any particularly new situations. Cooper could have been provided a breath of fresh air since giving him anything to do would have been a serious change of pace.
4. LET ZACH GALIFIANAKIS GROW
Zach Galifianakis’s character Alan has serious psychological problems. We’re no expert, but there’s something seriously wrong with this dangerous man-child that has gone completely unexplored through both of the Hangover movies. By the end of the first film it seemed that the rest of the cast had grown to love, or at least accept, or at least tolerate him, which seemed like a bit of progress. At the start of the sequel he’s isolated once again, and with the inclusion of a new potential member of ‘The Wolf Pack’ – Teddy, played by Mason Lee – he’s visibly threatened and feels like a genuine danger to himself and others. And then he does every single damned thing he did in the first film, rather than going anywhere interesting with that.
If Bradley Cooper was the breakout actor of The Hangover, Alan is certainly the breakout character, and if it ain’t broke I suppose the filmmakers decided not to fix it. But sometimes these things require regular maintenance. Alan is a tragic figure, desperately yearning to be loved yet completely incapable of expressing it in a socially acceptable way. What’s particularly odd is that the makers of The Hangover: Part II included a narrative device in their sequel which could have easily allowed Alan to grow as a person, and even hinted that that’s what they were doing before, once again, going back to the same old well.
Of course, we are speaking about the monks. At a key point in the narrative, The Wolf Pack finds themselves needing to meditate in order to unlock their memories of the night before and – surprise! – only Alan was Zen enough to pull it off. They’d already established the mystery of Alan’s shaved head. Why not put Alan on the path to enlightenment, in a decidedly ‘Alan’ way, and give his character an unexpected plot twist rather than rely on him for easy jokes and tired plot points?
5. IN THE END, PUT TEDDY ANYWHERE ELSE
We’d have appreciated more deviation from the first film’s formula throughout the film, but the most insultingly familiar plot device was the final revelation of Teddy’s whereabouts, which we won’t go into much detail describing here. Suffice it to say, you’ve seen it before. Frankly, it was a little insulting to climax a movie the exact same way as the previous film. Can you imagine a sequel to The Maltese Falcon in which the mystery was solved the exact same way as in The Maltese Falcon? That’s not much of a mystery at all. It would have smacked of laziness. Concluding the plot with a smack in the face isn’t the best way to end a movie.
Again, what’s odd is that there was a built-in opportunity to do something different this time around. Teddy is an interesting character, for what little we see of him. Smart and talented but suffering from a controlling father, desperate to just cut loose. Here’s an alternate ending suggestion, just one of many: what if Teddy just ran away? He has every motivation and a perfect inciting incident, i.e. the bawdy night in question. From what little we know about him, he could have even faked his own death, using the severed finger as proof of foul play. The heroes never put much thought in the possibility that Teddy just didn’t want to go home, which is weird since it makes perfect sense. This would have provided the film with a new climactic revelation that’s actually based on character, not circumstance and adherence to a familiar formula. The Hangover: Part II would have at least ended in a way that felt new, taking the edge off the rest of the familiar plot line.
That’s all for We Can Fix It this week. We hope you enjoyed our constructive criticism. It may be too late to fix a film, but it’s never too late to learn.
How would you have fixed The Hangover: Part II?