As with the 2009 original, the basic model for The Hangover Part II isn’t the Ferrell-Sandler-Carrell-Vaughn comedies but the noir quicksands of Maté’s D.O.A. and Nolan’s Memento, where dying or amnesic protagonists scramble to decipher the vortexes they’re in. The first film remained fairly repellent in its view of frat-house regression unquestioningly papered over with massive smirks, so it’s a nifty surprise to see Todd Phillips’s sequel willing to smear a dash of grime on the original’s outlandish morning-after routines even as it virtually recreates them. As the action shifts from Las Vegas to Bangkok and their dazed characters experience severed body parts and invaded orifices, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis amp up their screen personas—Alpha douchebag, elongated nervous Nellie and Zen Lou Costello, respectively—to an interestingly unpleasant degree, positing a stark comic version of the Hostel films in which the jackasses deserve everything that comes their way. The juxtaposition of unknown terrain and the carbon-copy repetition of jokes and lines achieves a certain surreal effect: Watching the sometimes idyllic interplay between stooges, Buddhist monks and monkeys, you begin to wonder if Phillips has ever watched Apichatpong Weerasethakul. (Furthermore, watching Helms’s encounter with an alluring, gender-blurring prostitute and a gag enactment of Eddie Adams’s “Saigon Execution” photograph, you wonder if he’s ever watched Nagisa Oshima.) An obnoxious installment in an obnoxious franchise, The Hangover Part II is also (intentionally or not) fascinatingly bent on disconcerting its target audience.
Incidentally, Bridesmaids has been repeatedly pitched as “The Hangover with chicks,” praised as a breakthrough for screen comediennes by people who have probably never heard of Mabel Normand or Marion Davies. With its knowing feminization of guy-movie tropes (gross-out, bromantic comedy here instead of action flicks), girl-band covers, slow-mo strides toward the camera, and Jon Hamm’s cameo as the heroine’s designated penetrator, a more fitting suggestion might be Judd Apatow’s Sucker Punch. It is in any case a better film than either, and at times as rich a portrait of female competitiveness and closeness as La Cava’s Stage Door. The director is sitcom vet Paul Feig but the auteur is star and co-writer Kristen Wiig, who takes center stage after displaying flashes of fuzzy brilliance in MacGruber, Paul and “Saturday Night Live.” Pixilated anxiety is her forte, and though she allows herself moments of absolute physical glee—furiously kicking through an oversized, heart-shaped cookie or struggling to hang on to her deadpan façade while vile fluids bubble up within her—Wiig’s most affecting scenes are opposite Maya Rudolph, quieter passages that briefly turn the movie into a documentary about friends making a movie. As tonally wobbly and visually flat as other Apatow joints, it is nevertheless attuned as much to its characters’ bursts of emotional intensity as to the weirdly lyrical sight gag of a bride collapsed on her wedding gown in the middle of a street, her back to the camera as diarrhea runs its course.
An early scene at a speed-dating event illustrates The Double Hour’s narrative gimmickry: Bits of Very Important Information (an object, a gesture, a loaded line about a character’s past) pushed as if through revolving doors, with the two protagonists staring at each other until a bell dings and they switch from one ill-fitting role to another. (“I’m the cagey brooder and you’re the vulnerable outsider. All right, now I’m the patsy and you’re the femme fatale...”) The characters’ jobs—she (Ksenia Rappoport) is a Slovenian chambermaid in Italy suspiciously taking lessons in Spanish, he (Filippo Timi, Bellocchio’s splendid Mussolini in Vincere) is a widowed ex-cop in charge of a wall of surveillance cameras—further underline the need to keep an eye out for clues as the two come together in tentative romance, are separated by abrupt crime, and play along with the movie’s various twists and half-assed toe dips into Shyamalan’s supernatural waters. A fluid, teasing architect of mazes like Raúl Ruiz surely would have made good use of a couple of evocative doppelganger figures and Rappoport’s knack for expressing muted longings that refuse to solidify. As directed by Giuseppe Capotondi with little more than a chilled eye for sleek surfaces, the rug-pulling games—why settle for dreams, when you can have ghosts and double-crosses and coma hallucinations?—make for mental chewing gum that quickly loses its flavor.