Review- The Hangover Part II

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galiafanakis in The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.)

If you read my review of The Hangover you’ll know that I was quite a fan of the original installment of the film. It even cracked my Top 15 Films of 2009 list. It remains, regretfully for the follow-up, as one of the best comedies of the past few years.

Part of what works so well in the first, and what I didn’t quite articulate then, is that when you’re dealing with a story wherein your characters seemingly irrevocably messed up their life in the course of one night of binge drinking and partying and did crazy things, add to that they cannot recall what they did and you can have almost anything happen as long as it hangs together when it gets explained. This should be an extraordinarily freeing experience for writers and filmmakers instead it became a case of variations on precisely the same thing.

As the trailers for the film started rolling out I started to get a Home Alone 2 vibe form it, meaning that while it may be funny it would be essentially the same film but relocated. Little did I know just how many things would be pretty much the same as they were the first time around and what compounded that is that it wasn’t even that funny. At least Home Alone 2 was the rare film in the course of my life that made me cry from laughter.

One perfect example of how identical they decided to make this film is that the one new character who they bring along with them on their night of partying, Teddy (Mason Lee), is the one who vanishes and must be located. So it’s the same triad as the first time. Doug stays behind and does damage control. So the dynamic is similar but a little more unbalanced than it seemed last time. Zach Galiafanakis has been the one who has most benefited from the first film career-wise and it seems like the film was designed to give him even more moments both organic and inorganic than prior. While Helms is still very funny he seems to have fewer chances to take over scenes.

There were long passages of this film where I barely made a sound, which is rare for me in a comedy but to be fair this film does have its moments. Two very noticeable ones are musical in nature, one is original to this film a parody of Billy Joel’s “Allentown” and the other which rehashes a cameo from the first in a very humorous way.

While one cameo which was sort of a re-run works another, that of Nick Cassavetes as the tattoo artist, just falls completely flat. As unpopular as he is now, Mel Gibson would’ve been funnier in the part, which was how it was originally cast.

In the film there are a few things that spring to mind that kind of make you wonder a bit too much and over-thinking is the enemy of a comedy. Firstly, Alan recites many random factoids about Thailand throughout and one of them ends up being a key event. So kudos to an extent for giving us expository information without us necessarily knowing it. There are two other head-scratchers, however, that are harder to overlook: one being how avoidable the chaos that ensued was this time. Second is the consequences a few of the characters face are a bit too serious too be laughed off lightheartedly and takes away some of the intended comedy.

Practically all the complaints listed above are story-related, which is in and of itself a shame because you do have the same talented core doing their best in this one also but this time they have substandard, stale material that they cannot coax enough laughs out of to salvage this mess.

The sad reality is that pretty much everyone who saw and enjoyed the first film, which were many, went out to see it opening weekend and gave the film a record opening (for an R-Rated live-action comedy) so there will be a third film. Hopefully the mistakes of this installment are learned from and addressed.

5/10

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Review- Fast Five

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast Five (Universal)

As I first discussed in my review of Rio I bring quite a bit of baggage to any American-made film dealing with Brazil and I will be analyzing certain aspects that escape the notice of the common viewer. Obviously, some of these things also come into play when discussing Fast Five and I will attempt to address those as swiftly as possible and address the film as a whole.

However, with this particular film the Brazilian-ness of it and how accurately that is portrayed is a more pervasive concern as it touches many aspects of the film from dialogue, plot, believability, characters, plot points, acting and the like more so than in the aforementioned film.

Some examples: Firstly, I applaud this film for its attempt to be sneaky foreign (like Hanna) and actually include a bit of dialogue in Portuguese and even subtitling certain scenes. Most of the acting in the film as a whole is just fine, however, the noticeable sore spots are created by those portraying Brazilians who are clearly not. Joaquim de Almeida plays a drug kingpin and the mark of the major heist in this film, he does a fine job but as I suspected when I looked up the cast he’s Portuguese not Brazilian. Very noticeably a fish out of water is American Michael Irby as his second hand man. Spaniard Elsa Pataky and Israeli Elsa Godot are quite convincing, the latter not so much in one particular scene due to her look more so than her interpretation. The best Portuguese is spoken by Jordana Brewster who speaks it rarely and I wasn’t even sure she knew any despite being born in Brazil.

Issues with the story with regards to it being set in Brazil are most prevalent in two incidents that I take issue with. So far as having a druglord who has the Military Police in his pocket and corruption, I can take that. It’s an acknowledged issue that’s been long combated, however, if you want to see a film about the PM and how a good man can go bad and see a rather realistic rendition thereof watch Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). The issues are the first scene where the American forces lead by Dwayne Johnson go up into a favela, in very cinamtically clichéd fashion all the runners and criminals brandish their guns like a territorial pissing then Johnson shows his gun and they all back away. The problem there is that that would either lead to a standoff or a firefight, which is not infrequent. It’s a movie device that really doesn’t apply here. There’s a more realistic scene where he’s baited out into the open and surrounded.

The worst scene of the film is the apparent defeat. Here for some reason the American forces decide they should drive, seemingly unnecessarily, through the elevated and undulating streets of a favela and it sets up a ridiculous confrontation.

There is enough action to carry this film along and make it a decent ride. The villain although broadly drawn does have some decent moments. The characters in the film are many so not many are developed in all that much detail but you do get a sense of them and there is a good amount of comedy mixed in which keeps things light in spite of the bickering minorities device that is employed twice.

To give this film its just desserts there is a hand-to-hand combat scene between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel that trumps anything that occurred in The Expendables and no uncomfortable undertones to boot.

Despite being incredibly outlandish in terms of what the heist is, how it’s pulled off and what the reactions of law enforcement are to it at several stages of the film it’s still an enjoyable enough flick. It’s a decent popcorn flick that actually got me in the theatre by adding the heist element to a franchise that had never interested me before. Also, plan your health break carefully and stay through the end credits for a tag teases a sequel.

As a coda, bear in mind that with the financial success of Rio and Fast Five, Brazil will likely be the go to international transplant destination for franchises everywhere. I think James Bond needs a vacation, don’t you?

6/10

Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a better film than its predecessor. This was something I rather anticipated, however, I don’t believe its to the detriment of this installment that it is second. There is not too much shorthand used and the narrative is accessible enough that that much enjoyment will not be stripped away if you are walking into this one cold.

This film benefits from a more unified and less episodic plot than did its predecessor as well. Not that it still doesn’t reap the benefit of humorous and well thought out subplots but they weave their way into the larger narrative with more finesse than before. These tales like Chirag’s invisibility, the new girl, the teacher with a vendetta are all well-handled and add to the film but do not ever threaten to overtake the film from what the central conflict is.

The conflict being that of sibling rivalry, which is handled very well because you see a relationship in stasis go from just about as bad as it can possibly get to become rather functional. It also contains the peaks and valleys that are requisite for such a struggle and even more of a credit to the film it goes from being borderline cartoonish in its animosity to being rather real and honest in the handling of the themes of both resentment and insurmountable hatred that sometimes accompany such relationship especially when the age difference is large.

These discussion points come first to illustrate that despite its varying brands of humor, there is a point to be made in the film and its not just silly comedy. As for the styles comedy it does do a wonderful balancing act again. As this is a homey tale there is more parent-child and husband-wife comedy than before.

Again Steve Zahn brilliantly plays a dad who wants to be as hands off in parenting as he can and also is a typical guy in some regards and not just your typical distant patriarchal archetype. He is countered wonderfully by Rachael Harris. They are funny enough, however, the comedic quotient in this film is amplified greatly when you consider that the talented and previously under-ultilized Devon Bostick gets to step to the fore in this film. He is astonishingly good in this film and rarely delivers a line that doesn’t elicit some sort of response whether it be a laugh or one that connects dramatically.

Zachary Gordon’s character Greg is somewhat mellowed this time around not as hellbent on achieving popularity and other superficial means of acceptance but glimmers of that self appear even in a more rounded character that he creates just as easily, if not easier than he did before. His honesty in situations that in tandem can be seen as absurd are what carry the film and make it something you can connect to sympathetically rather than watch as a disinterested observer.

This film moves along at a very healthy clip, not only are there some fun and creative editing choices like “Disappointed” montage for Mom but things cut swiftly within scenes such that the whole things seems like its done in a blink and not in a disappointed I-Can’t-Believe-They-Call-That-A-Feature kind of way but in a fun and escapist, easily re-watchable way.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules allows the narrative, characters and young performers to grow and evolve from where we left them and you can call it an experiment if you like but if you do it is surely a success. Those who were there are better, more confident and comfortable in their roles and those who are new like Peyton List, who carries off the important role of Greg’s love interest with uncanny ease, blend in perfectly.

It’s funny, fun, must-see.

10/10