Hangover Part II: The Funny Fell Off

The Hangover II Onesheet  The Hangover II is about a group of friends who go to Thailand to help one of them get married. They have a few drinks. Before they know it, they wake up in a hotel room with no memory of what happened the day before. It turns out they’re implicated in a murder, conspiring to hide the body; one friend gets shot; another’s face is tattooed and he’s taken advantage of sexually; and yet another seems to have lost a finger and been kidnapped, maybe killed, by Russian mobsters.

That’s right–it’s a comedy. A very bad comedy.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I know the movie is making a gazilliion dollars at the box office, which means many people are enjoying it, right? Well, actually it means many people have succumbed to the hype and paid to see it. Not the same thing as enjoying it. I heard no laughter in the half-crowded theater, only a few expressions of good-natured revulsion.at some of the movie’s more blatant attempts to shock the audience. This movie is no more than a lame haunted house in a seedy amusement park.

But maybe I’m just too sensitive to edgy comedies? Listen. I came of age in the Sixties. My generation invented sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. I ain’t shocked by anything. What I am is over-sensitive to bad comedies, to movies that will do anything to assault you at the expense of story, characters, and even laughs.

On top of that, The Hangover II, llike Sex and the City II, is overwhelmed by its exotic setting. The movie takes place in Thailand, encouraging every bad stereotype about the place as a den of thieves, drug dealers, and sex-workers. Even the Buddhist monks delight in beating people up. Message to the Thai tourism board: if you paid anything to the film company to promote the image of Thailand around the world, you need to ask for your money back.

One of the rules of comedy is that the actors should play their parts as if they were in a drama, no matter how ridiculous the situations in which they find themselves. No winking and nodding to the audience. (Are you listening, Jim Carrey, Russell Brand, etc.?) That’s pretty much what the actors do here. The trouble is that the situations are not ridiculous. They’re scary and violent, the stuff of crime stories and thrillers. The Hangover II is a gross-out comedy without the comedy. Over and over, it seemed, the characters took turns crying out, “How’s any of this possible?” and “What are we going to do?” Two good questions. The Hangover II was made possible because you went for the short-end money, probably signing on before you even read the script. What am I saying?–before the script was even written. And what are you going to do? You’ll probably buy bigger houses and go on to make bigger travesties. And here’s another question you might have asked: “What happened to the funny?” Here’s what I think: at some point in the filming, the funny accidentally got lopped off the movie like that finger and rolled under the couch. Apparently, no one even noticed it was gone.

P.S. Hard to keep track of how many times The Sleeper nodded off, since I kept nodding off myself.

P.P.S. Message to Crystal, the monkey: Loved you in Night at the Museum, and is that you in Pirates? Great work! But Crystal, The Hangover II? Did Pacino do Dog Day Afternoon II? Did DeNiro do Godfather II II? You’re better than the room, babe.

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Limitless Ltd.

Limitless OnesheetThe late John Gardner, author of the novels Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues, once said a writer can’t create a character who’s smarter than he or she is. Well, he made that assertion before the advent of Google, the world-brain. Still, Limitless brings Gardner to mind. First, Andrew Morra, the character played by Bradley Cooper, is a writer—in this case, a failed writer, a writer who hasn’t written, what used to be called a writer manqué. And he takes a pill that allows him to use all of his brain, not just the twenty percent or so that we use now. Sadly, despite Google, the filmmakers have proven the truth of Gardner’s assertion. Andrew Morra becomes a super-brain, but only within the limits of Hollywood’s cliché-ridden crapola.

Apparently, with access to 100% of your brain, you can write a book in four days, seduce a bunch of women, and make a ton of money in a couple of weeks. In fact, the whole movie is really about day-trading. Was there nothing more interesting the filmmakers could make him do? The most dramatic tension the film achieves occurs when our hero learns that prolonged use of the brain-enhancer often leads to death. But using his super-brain, he works out a way that might allow him to avoid that. If the pill makes him smart enough to come up with this solution, why is it that none of the other users of the pill could figure this out?

Side Note: I wish Hollywood would get its facts right. The Bradley Cooper character is a writer who has received a sizeable advance from a publisher for a novel he hasn’t even begun. In the real world, this does not happen unless you’re Stephen King.

The rest of the cast do a serviceable job, but it’s as if all of them, including DeNiro, are standing aside to give Bradley Cooper his moment under the bright lights. And Cooper does well enough, especially when he acts sweaty desperation. But is it just me, or in every movie in which he appears, does Cooper have a perpetual half-smirk that makes him look as though he’s just stepped out of a fraternity bedroom during Spring Fling? It’s a look that makes him perfect for movies like The Hangover but not so right for dramatic movies like this one, ones in which we’re meant to root for him. Sorry, Bradley.

The director, Neil Burger, does everything he can do to make the film look more interesting than it is, and the camera-work is sometimes breath-taking. When Morra types his novel, the alphabet falls through the air around him. When he gazes up at the ceiling, trying to figure out how the big merger should be managed, the coffers of his ceiling flip like tiles on a Wall Street tote board. In another memorable shot, the camera moves at high speed down streets, through cars, and over sidewalks in a way that’s meant to mirror Morra’s high-speed brain action. Note to the director: David Fincher called. He wants his camera back. (And wasn’t The Social Network the apotheosis of a director making a bland subject look more interesting than it is?)

First, know that I’m a big Robert DeNiro fan, but he’s never been more miscast than in this movie. Yes, he does a great job as the mysterious tycoon, and he’s given at least one good speech. But the miscasting is especially evident in the big confrontation scene at the end. The Cooper character demonstrates that he’s so smart he can predict a fender-bender that’s about to occur across the street. DeNiro’s character, stunned, climbs into his car and drives away. The DeNiro I know would have bounced Cooper’s head off the fender a few times: “What about this? Did you predict this, you smug !@%X!!?” Even as an older man, DeNiro conveys a sense of danger that Cooper just can’t touch. Sorry again, Bradley.

And at the end, after our hero has gone through all his ups and downs, he decides to go into politics. Really? I mean, would a super-brain really decide that the next logical step after generating super-wealth should be to go into politics? Isn’t Donald Trump’s interest in running for president evidence enough that smart people do not go into politics? Sorry, Donald.