Yes, haters, I stand by liking 'The Hangover Part II.' But is this really the best that director Todd Phillips can do?

Todd-Phillips

Image Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.com

The Hangover Part II may have had the biggest opening five-day haul of any comedy in history, but the collective Internet/media/ spectator-snark voice has spoken, and the verdict is not pretty. The Hangover Part II, it is said, reduces the first Hangover to a transparently contrived formula; it’s a cookie-cutter comedy, way too safe and pat; it doesn’t do anything that’s really unpredictable; it’s more of the same; and beyond that (did I mention this point yet?), it’s more of the same. To which I can only react by asking: And you were expecting the movie to be what, exactly…?

Two summers ago, if you happened to think that The Hangover was one of the funniest movies you’d ever seen, I guess it makes sense that you’d find The Hangover Part II a lot less fresh, wild, and original, less full of the shock and surprise that a great comedy thrives on. There’s no question that The Hangover Part II is, at heart, a cookie-cutter movie (though I would say it’s a good one). Here’s the thing: To me, the original Hangover was a cookie-cutter movie, too, and in a fairly obvious way. The moment that Phil, Stu, and Alan woke up in that Vegas hotel room in their groggy-druggy morning-after daze, the implication is that they must have been involved in some extremely crazed and dangerous stuff — but as each clue got explained, the picture was revealed to be a series of very standard sitcom mixups played in reverse. It became apparent, roughly halfway through, that the movie was completely formulaic (albeit in a breezy likable way). So how can you make a sequel to a comedy that’s that rigidly engineered and come up with anything that’s less than cookie-cutter?

Okay, we could probably debate this all day. But here’s what can’t be debated: Todd Phillips (pictured above), the director of The Hangover and The Hangover Part II, has become Hollywood’s new king of comedy. He now has the clout, the high visibility (he’s shrewd about exploiting his reptilian hipster vibe in cameo appearances in his own movies), the fanboy following, and the mainstream stylistic stamp (“A Todd Phillips Movie”) to do more or less whatever he wants. And that leads me to the real question of this post: What, aside from The Hangover Part III, does Todd Phillips really want to do? He’s a very talented director, with a sixth sense for how to make people laugh. Yet does he have any desire to become, you know, a more organic artist of screen comedy? By which I mean: Would he ever like to make a mainstream comedy that really takes a chance?

In the interests of disclosure, a little background. I was friendly with Todd for a few years in the ’90s, before he went off to Hollywood (I’ve had no contact with him since), and when he did, I was thrilled to see his ascent. Back when I knew him, he was a wickedly witty straight shooter (and a very nice guy) who idolized Howard Stern and had a boundless appetite for stuff that was funny and darkly subversive at the same time. He had a thing for comedy that rose up from the edge of reality. (That’s why he dug the vérité spectacle of walking outrages like Al Goldstein.) I got to know Todd around the time that he showed his first film, the 1994 documentary Hated (made as his senior thesis at NYU), about the scandalously depraved punk rocker GG Allin, and I began to follow his work, taking a particular interest in Frat House, his funny and scary exposé of fraternity hazing rituals.

It was at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where Frat House premiered, that a bit of Hollywood history was made. Ivan Reitman was there, because his son Jason (who would go on to direct Juno and Up in the Air) had his own first short film in the festival, and Phillips seized the opportunity to introduce himself to Ivan Reitman and pitch him on the spot. He said, in essence: I want to make a movie that brings back the 1980s. The bawdiness and the rowdy joy. The spirit of Animal House.

The pitch worked. Two years later, with Reitman serving as producer, Phillips left the world of indie documentaries behind to make his first Hollywood movie, Road Trip (2000). I thought it was the perfect way for an eager young filmmaker to show off his chops, to create a sense of fun, and to prove his commercial mettle. When the movie came out, I gave Road Trip a B and had this to say about it:

“No one could have guessed that the grade-Z Animal House clones would one day be remembered as hip, dumb touchstones and fondly recycled in movies like American Pie and the clever, shallow, genially vulgar Road Trip. The new models, if anything, are superior to the old — smartly paced studio machines stocked with gifted young actors who love to clown… The very title Road Trip has a basic-goods, ’80s-nostalgia flavor; it hints that the movie is going to revel in its high-concept, lowbrow glory. The director, Todd Phillips, is careful not to break any taboos that haven’t already been thoroughly pre-smashed; he stages the movie as a series of flip, naughty but not too naughty set pieces.”

I was probably being a bit churlish. Over the years, I’ve caught bits and pieces of Road Trip on TV again, and it always makes me grin. I love DJ Qualls doing his oh-no-he-didn’t nerd-dance to Run–D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky,” and a handful of other scenes. Road Trip is the definition of a movie that is what it is — in this case, an affectionate non-ironic flashback to ’80s schlock. It was the perfect entry point for a shrewd novice who understood that Hollywood had become a great, big recycling bin. But though I always expected Todd Phillips to be successful, it never occurred to me that he would do so by basing his entire career on recycling that same ’80s vibe — the now all-but-officially sanctioned slob humor and faux-naughtiness, the guys will be guys stupido high jinks, the how-smart-can-we-be-about-being-dumb VHS-era nostalgia.

Okay, you say, what’s wrong with that? Well, for one thing, it gives all of Phillips’ movies a slightly synthetic quality. That may be appropriate when he’s doing a stylized lark like Old School (2003), or even a low-camp Cheez Doodle like Starsky & Hutch (2004), but I really became aware of the limitations that Phillips was bumping up against when I saw the first film he made after The HangoverDue Date (2010), the road-trip buddy comedy that paired Robert Downey Jr. as a short-fused architect struggling to get back to L.A. before his wife gives birth and Zach Galifianakis as a metaphysically annoying dim-bulb loser-schlub. It’s the kind of movie we’ve all seen a million times before, but Phillips staged it beautifully, letting the actors perform in their own rhythms, so that their hate chemistry came to a hilarious slow boil. It was an impeccably executed high-concept movie…and yet, when it was over, I thought: It never transcended being a high-concept movie. I mean, what can you say when a very talented director, coming off his biggest hit, makes what is arguably his most personal film to date, and it’s basically just a hipper, less bumptious version of Planes, Trains & Automobiles?

What I wonder about Todd Phillips is that, in buying so fully into the ethos of the ’80s, did he also buy — a little too much — into the Hollywood mentality that was born at the time, the one that said: Give the people what they want, over and over again, and watch success at the box office become its own reward. Personally, I’m cheered that Phillips is so successful, but what I’d love to see him do now is to make a movie that breaks off into a more naturalistic behavioral zone, the way that the best Judd Apatow-produced comedies, like Superbad and Bridesmaids, have done. I’d also love to see him make a movie that goes deeper into the outrageousness I know he has in him. Probably the funniest sequence in The Hangover Part II is the one where Stu discovers what he was up to in the back room of a Bangkok strip club. The dialogue is, almost literally, balls-out hilarious, but the only trouble with a scene like that one is that it suddenly sets the bar very high. The movie would have done well to deliver half a dozen more laughs on that same level of I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-hearing.

Of course, Todd Phillips doesn’t need my advice. He’s running his career just fine. The question he should ask himself is: Now that he’s the king of comedy, does he simply want to go on and on in his cautiously quasi-outrageous pre-chewed-for-middle-class-consumption I love the ’80s way? Does he just want to rule? Or does he truly want to rock?

Did you think The Hangover Part II was a dud, or (like me) do you think that the people who went into it expecting something “different” went to the wrong film? And what’s your favorite Todd Phillips movie? What do you think is his defining feature as a comedy director…apart from the obvious fact that his movies are, you know, funny?

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman


Comments (163 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2 3 6
  • LOL

    Owen loves crap.

    • LOL

      Old School is still great, though.

      • kate K

        Love Old School.

      • Lena120

        Old School is the ULTIMATE! I even love the commentary on that movie!

    • tom

      Cinemascore gave it an A — which measures the reactions of audiences — so people are loving it, I loved it — I don’t get what they would be expecting. Home alone and home alone 2 — did the same thing — switched locales — were people looking for something else. a hangover that leads to what…..

      • Woot

        Cinemascore gave it an A- (I can’t tell if your dash is implying an A- or not.) Regardless, I stand by my thinking that cinemascore is very flawed. I mean “Soul Surfer” got a cinemascore of an A+…. I feel like they often only get responses from a certain demographic that are likely to respond a certain way to a film.

      • VA

        @Woot — actaully cinemascore doesn’t hand out it’s score cards to the demographics that it think will give them the answer they want. The hand out the score cards to the audience of an entire theater and then score it that way. The demo is what ever is in the theater at that time of the screening. So if a show is geared toward say female between the ages of 20 and 30, and the female audience at the time of the screening happens to fit that demographic, then there you go. Don’t blame Cinemascore for their testing when it’s based on a blind theater study.

      • fnord

        Defending yourself with “And you were expecting the movie to be what, exactly…?” is the laziest defense of a lame opinion I’ve seen all year. You could apply that to any piece of crap. Give us a break, Owen.

      • Woot

        I know cinemascore doesn’t hand out score cards to specific demographics, I just feel that it unintentionally happens. I don’t think it is always very indicative to the general public’s reaction.

      • Emma

        Woot- Obviously it’s only indicative of the reaction that people who actually saw the film had. If a film is marketed properly, the right people go see it and love it. That’s exactly what happened here. But judging by the gross, that was a lot of people.

      • andy

        LOVED H2!! More gritty and raunchy than the 1st, but that reflects the reality of Bangkok…

      • Dave

        Audience reactions are probably measured right after the viewing. The pictures during the credits were pretty funny while the movie itself was way too predictable making it not very funny at all. So if I was surveyed right after the viewing I’d give it an A as well, had they surveyed me later on when I reflect on the entire movie it would have been a C or possibly a B.

      • tabatha

        Sucks. You have no sense of real humor. Me and hubbie almost walked out.

    • rerun

      I agree with Owen. What did people expect? Of course it’s more of the same. Did you want them to become vampire hunters or for it to become a Merchant -Ivory movie? The theater I saw it in was laughing the whole time.

      • Tom Strong

        Owen is a joke. He sounds like the many times Kevin Smith has lamely defended his sins.

        “What did you expect”
        “you’re just a bunch of haters”
        “I used to suck Todd Philips’s c***”

    • Roger

      Owen, it’s just that when you review dreck like this favorably, we get more dreck. The consensus seemed to be that the movie was just more of the same only raunchier. I thought the first one was only mildly amusing in spots. The sequel was too lame for words.

      • Ana

        No, it’s when audiences line up in droves to see movies like this that you get more dreck. The only movie makers that care what critics think are the ones that are going after Oscars. Transformers got horrible reviews but still they’re making another one because people like you went to see the first two.

      • lifeafterlost

        @Ana hm I think it might also be because the last 1 made over $900 million worldwide. but what do I know I’m only 17.

      • me, Baby, ME

        o

      • me, Baby, ME

        For lifeafterlost:… Hey dipsh*t, do you realize that Ana was making that same point–that Transformers sequels continue because of revenue, not quality–that you just tried to correct her on?…If you’re going to try to try to make another person feel stupid for what they say, particularly in relative comparison to your own intellectual capabilities (which include the amazing ability to search the internet for worldwide box-office totals), with respect to age difference, it is advisable to actually make a well-thought-out statement. It would make you seem a lot more like a d-bag, instead of an idiot d-bag. I’m not very old, but regardless, I thought I’d let you know. You know, since you’re only 17 and all…
        (This isn’t about you, this is about people insulting others before taking the time to comprehend their words and actions…I really hate that. So I chose to do a bit of it myself.)

        Enjoy the day!

    • HD

      Hang Over II is way better than the first film!

  • Ltevo

    How can he be the new “king of comedy” when he’s only done two commercially successful comedy films??
    (And out of those two, The Hangover 2 is simply a clone of the first) And let’s be honest…nobody went to see either film because “OMG, it’s the new Todd Phillips film!!!!”

    • Meg

      He also did OldSchool, but I agree, that film’s success had more to do with Will Ferrell’s performance than with Phillips’ direction

      • Roger

        Will Ferrell should be selling shoes.

    • Jeff

      Two you say? Listen, I’m not saying he’s the king of comedy, but he certainly has more than two commercially successful films:

      1. Hangover: $277 million
      2. Hangover 2: $200 million + likely
      3. Due Date: $100 million
      4. Starsky and Hutch: $88 million
      5. Old School: $87 million
      6. Road Trip: 68$ million

      Those total ain’t James Cameron, but for comedies those are all certified hits. His only real miss was School for Scoundrels. Whatever his talent may be, the dude knows how to make box office.

      • Meg

        Are you kidding me? None of those films were hits because of him. very few directors get people into theatres with their names (Cameron, Scorcese and Spielberg come to mind, and on a much smaller scale, Spike Lee and Woody Allen). Do you really think that on Thursday, hordes of people were saying “OMG! We have got to see the new Todd Phillips film!”

      • Matt1

        Props to the research effort there buddy!

      • Jeff

        Meg: That isn’t the point in the least. You’re right that – especially in comedy – there are hardly ever directors that are a draw just on their name, notable exceptions like Judd Apatow not withstanding. But just because someone isn’t going to the theater with the director IN MIND, doesn’t mean he had no role in bringing them there. That’s like saying Jon Favreau deserved zero credit for the success of Iron Man because, in your words, people weren’t saying “OMG! We have got to see the new Jon Favreau film!”

        Regardless, my comment was only a response to Ltvo’s assertion that the man had “only done two commercially successful comedy films.” This is, no matter what REASON you want to apply to it, just untrue. In fact, Phillips has one of the best track records for hit-making of anyone currently in the biz. I’m not saying he’s the best director out there, or he makes my favorite films, but facts are facts.

        And if you really think movies like Road Trip and Old School would have been just as successful, had anyone directed them with the same basic concept, I think you’re severely underestimating the guy’s talent. I mean, he did WRITE Old School, Road Trip, and others (not to mention having a large hand in crafting the story for Borat). Do these things count for nothing? Will Ferrel is funny, yes, but Old School was a very clever script in its own right.

        It’s sorta funny I find myself defending the guy here, since there are plenty of comedies I enjoy more than his. But this backlash is just annoying me. The man makes funny movies for the (largely male) masses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • Tito

        You are living in lala Land if you really think that audiences care who directs films when they make their decisions as to what films to watch. Even with Iron Man…especially with Iron Man, directed by some dude who was in some film with the guy from Wedding Crashers. Iron Man was a huge hit because of Robert Downey JR and the cool robotic special effects in the wake of Transformers mania. And even Judd Apatow is not a name that has enough pull WITH AUDIENCES. He may be a well-regarded director in the industry, but sorry, nobody says “let’s go watch the latest Apatow film” The only times I have actually heard people -real, average people,not industry insiders or internet savvy geeks-around me taking a director’s name into consideration to watch a film is when James Cameron and Steven Spielberg release a film. Those are the only two that I’d say deserve every penny they have, because their names alone pull in the crowds. Todd Phillips? Not so much. Otherwise, that guy who directed a whole bunch of Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler hits would be a draw…what’s his name, Steve Oderek?

  • gigity

    Owen’s feeling defensive about giving his friend’s crap movie a high score. B+? More like a BJ. Wipe your lips, Owen.

    • anonymous

      Hahaha, that’s the impression I got too, that almost ALL critics pasnned it, but Owen now feels need to disclose his BFF status with the director and to explain his extreme love of a below average movie.

      • Ja

        How is knowing someone almost 20 years ago and then not having contact with them since then, imply that he is BFF’s with the director? The fact that Owen disclosed this shows that he didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest….which of course you two idiots decide there was.

    • bellecat

      My thoughts exactly. And why is he tell us this now? I guess someone was going to expose him – or he is second-guessing his own review now that all other critics hate it. How spineless.

  • Mzeno

    Buuuut, it’s not funny. Bridesmaids-way funnier.

    • JaxDad

      $1000 says you’re a chick. Bridesmaids had its moments and some of those moments were very funny. In terms of a well-written, character-driven comedy, Bridesmaids was better. In terms of what actually brought the most “funny”, Hangover takes it. Takes it by a significant mile.

      • Leslie

        $1000 says you have a small penis.

      • JaxDad

        Incredibly small. But I’m still right.

      • torre

        $10,000 says you have a huge vagina that reeks of fish guts. I’ll take a small penis.

    • Vince

      Bridesmaids is actually way funnier & a way smarter film than The Hangover Part II. That movie’s got problems, it’s way too goddamn long and the characters are more two-dimensional than they should be, but even if you didn’t like the film, you gotta commend Bridesmaids for taking a risk. They went out there, took an original idea, made a film w/o a big, proven blockbuster star and they succeeded. The Hangover Part II’s just content with rehashing the same jokes & situations over again.

  • Carl

    Lord help us if he is the “New King of Comedy”. These movies are not nearly as funny as EW ravesa bout. Also fluff movies like this, do not need half as much analyzing as EW seems to think they do. The main star is a monkey for goodness sake, why overnalyze.

  • heather

    hahahaha such a long essay defending his liking of a movie that 99% or other movie critics HATED. Insecure much?

    • Carla

      I know eh?!! Think he felt it necessary to admit his close association being his the only critic who seemed to like it!!

  • TOM

    old school and road trip were both successfull

  • justme

    Owen, being a movie critic means never having to defend your initial write-up, no?? Time to get a read up on critiquing movies 101, yes you are the only critic on the entire planet who seemed to like it (likely due t your friendship with Todd), but you must own it or perhaps I should say…”Owen” it.

  • Tim

    I really don’t get what people thought they were going to get when they went into The Hangover 2. I got what I expected: A HILARIOUS movie. I liked it MORE than the original. Anyone that went into it expecting it to be “different” from the first outside of a change in location must not understand that the entire point of the movie is “I can’t believe this happened again”. It PURPOSELY recalls things from the first movie. I’m glad I know how to enjoy a movie for what it is and not cry and complain about what it isn’t. There’s plenty of movies out there for you people looking for something “different”. Go enjoy them and I’ll enjoy having a great time at the theater with The Wolfpack.

    Side-note: You people make me sick. You complain so much about wanting things to be fresh and original, but when fresh and original movies come out, WHERE ARE YOU GUYS??? Obviously not there watching the movies, because they FLOP. I mean, why do movies like In Bruges and Scott Pilgrim V.S The World not become massive successes?

    • Rolo Tomasi

      Didn’t go see this movie, looks like crap, but I do agree with you about people complaining about wanting new original movies, yet movies like this make tons of money, just like I’m sure the horrible Transformers franchise will. Blame yourselves, not Hollywood.

    • peggym

      It’s not so much that they repeated things, which i expected and had no problem with, but that they did it so badly. It’s much more mean-spirited as well.

  • Rolo Tomasi

    I have noticed that the critics on EW have been coming back writing an article defending their reviews. Lisa did it not too long ago also, it’s more of a “nah, nah, told you so” Come on, be professional.

    • Mia

      No kidding. Man up, EW.

  • Pittner

    I never understood what the big deal was about Old School. I thought I was going to love The Hangover because of the cast but I never saw what the big deal was about that either. I still say Road Trip is his best movie in my opinion. I probably even like Starsky and Hutch more than Hangover and Old School.

    • Rolo Tomasi

      I like Road Trip the best. Thought Hangover was vastly overrated, Wedding Crashers was a funnier comedy.

  • Captain Average

    Hangover 2 is a dud – not because it’s a cookie cutter movie, but because it’s a beat for beat remake transposed onto a new setting; where, for all it’s crudity, the first film was an extraordinarily witty film, H2 lacks wit and charm [except from Ed Helms – the major reason I didn’t give it an F], and for all its seeming franticness, it didn’t seem like the film had any genuine energy. Bradley Cooper has ample screentime, but not much to do in it, and Zack Gallifiankis’s Alan didn’t seem as much an obtuse naif so much as a wrecking ball.

    Also, Ken Jeong was over-used in a way that suggests that Phillips and the scriptwriters thought that more [and louder] Jeong would be funnier. They were wrong.

    Overall, Hangover 2 was – and this is the crucial thing – boring.

    I hope the people behind Bridesmaids don’t rush to make a sequel. This could easily happen to them.

    • Ja

      So what is the definition of being a dud — that fact that it doesn’t rate well with a majority of the critics? Highly doubtful from a business perspective when said movie bring in over 100 mil in a five day period of time.

    • Dian

      The difference being that BRIDESMAIDS is a much better film than the original Hangover, and the critics agree. But yeah, I hope there never is a BRIDESMAIDS sequel.

    • Darrin

      Capt. Average had the exact same opinion of H2 that I had. I saw it yesterday, and I wasn’t expecting something totally original, but I also wasn’t expecting the EXACT SAME movie from start to finish. It was as if the writers had a checklist of everything that happened in the first one that needed to happen again. It actually made me mad enough watching it to diminish my love for the first one. Everytime a character asked “How can this be happening again?” I could only think – exactly. Every situation was completely contrived, and I was baffled at how Ed Helms’ Stu went from a hopeful romance with Heather Graham at the end of Pt. 1 to suddenly being engaged to some incredibly gorgeous young Asian woman. Huh? Plus, it didn’t seem like anyone else in the theater was laughing a lot at the screening I saw, so it wasn’t just me.

      • Dorimifah Solatido

        I will bet any amount of money, and give odds, that there will CERTAINLY be a Bridesmaids sequel.

    • say whaaattt?

      i agree captain.

  • Beauty

    Didn’t Owen also give Transformers 2 a B+? Even the director of the movie admits it was crap. I never listen to Owen’s reviews.

  • Woot

    Personally, I liked the first… then after viewing it again I started to slowly despise it. Since my friend said he would pay for my ticket to see part II, I went and saw it. I wasn’t expecting a different movie, but I was hoping for one. I was expecting a little bit of effort to be made that would distinguish the 2nd from the first film. Really this was a lazy cash grab in my opinion with moments of hilarity…. but it didn’t make it good. Perhaps Todd Phillips is getting wrapped up in the “Hollywood machine,” lets hope not. Still he isn’t that well known to the general public. People don’t see his movies because he directed them.

    • Judgement day

      I had the totally opposite experience with the first hangover the first time i saw it i hated it But with each viewing enjoyed it more and more

    • Danno

      All Sequels. Every single one unless it is part of an already planned series is a cash grab. That is the reason why most sequels are not as good as the originals. That is just a fact of life.

  • Levi

    Both Hangovers were great!!! And people need to realize that when a movie says “Part II” in its name, chances are it’s going to be more of the same.

    • Rolo Tomasi

      Part II does not mean it has the have the same exact plot.

      • DTO

        Yes, everyone knows that THE GODFATHER PART II was just a carbon copy of the the original. Levi. the only reason a movie should have a sequel is if there’s more to say. THE HANGOVER PART II was not a continuation of an epic story. It was more like a relative at Easter telling you the exact same joke he told you at Christmas and expecting you to laugh twice as hard at a joke you’ve already heard before.

      • Mcfly

        Critics just want this film to fail because the last one did so good. As for Godfather II being a carbon copy of the first, are you f**king kidding me? Did you actually watch them?

      • Rolo Tomasi

        @McFly, The Godfather movies were not a carbon copy of each other at all.

      • Woot

        I’m pretty confident that DTO was being sarcastic…

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