What We’re Watching – 6/8/11
The Hangover Part II (2011)
Comedy might be the one genre, outside of drama, where sequels rarely work. While the characters may still be interesting, it’s been hard for filmmakers to find plots that make the comedic sequel necessary or even as interesting as the first installment. The Hangover Part II has a lot in common with another unsuccessful sequel, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Both films see a group of miscreants from a recent box office hit heading to an exotic location. For unexplained reasons, both films jettison a love interest from the first film and have one member of the group receive notably less screen time than before.
Heather Graham’s sunny presence is missed in this installment and she’s been replaced by a younger hottie (Jamie Chung) who for some reason is marrying Stu (Ed Helms). We don’t get any sense of their relationship or her personality. We’re just supposed to accept nerdy Stu with a hot woman who looks half his age. Justin Bartha once again sits out the shenanigans. This made sense in the first film where he went missing after the night of debauchery. But here he sits on the sidelines, calling in occasionally to remind the audience that he exists. There’s no reason for him to sit out this adventure, unless the filmmakers realized they didn’t give him any depth in the first and couldn’t be bothered to worry about it now.
The plot is a xerox of the first film. Every scene from the original is copied, but without the surprise and solid jokes of the original. Remember Stu’s random song about the plot from part one? There, it was a funny bit of randomness. Here, it’s trotted out again and falls flat. That’s how it goes for most of the copied jokes in the film. But the worst thing that Part II does is turn Alan (Zach Galifianakis) from the strange non-sequitur machine of the first into an insufferable asshole. Galifianakis was responsible for all of the big laughs in the original, but here he’s only semi-amusing. It may sound like I absolutely hate the film, which I don’t. It just feels like cold leftovers of a meal that wasn’t anything amazing to begin with. The best thing I can say about it is that it is at least better than Nerds in Paradise.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
I’m a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Like many, the first is my favorite, and I loved Johnny Depp’s career-changing (for better or worse) performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. I enjoyed the sequels quite a bit too, especially the weird and dark third installment At World’s End. In that film, it was great seeing the plot threads and characters of the trilogy wrap themselves up in exciting and surprising ways. Unfortunately, the films were gigantic hits and that means there must be a sequel until they are no longer profitable or up for reboot. Well, after four years, Disney has continued the series, albeit without some of the main characters and with the scope scaled very far back.
The plot finds Captain Jack searching for the fountain of youth. Depp is still good in the role, but this film shows that Jack works best when he’s not the one driving the plot. He’s given a former love interest (Penelope Cruz) and a conscience, the results of which nearly neuter the character. He’s no longer the bizarre pirate only looking out for number one. Now he’s just a slightly kooky action hero. Apparently the filmmakers realized that all-Jack-all-the-time isn’t a good thing, but what they gave us as a subplot is DOA. We are treated to a love story between a boring missionary and a mermaid. Neither of these characters are given any depth; they never even say why the missionary is on the expedition in the first place! This “romance” eats up screen time and the film would’ve had a much better pace if it had been altogether jettisoned. If anything, it makes you realize how important Orland Bloom and Keira Knightley were to the previous installments.
Overall, this isn’t a bad film, just a mediocre one. There are some good scenes (such as a mermaid attack that is straight out of a horror film) and fun moments. It’s just hard to be excited by Captain Jack running away from something yet again when we’ve seen the nine pirate lords come together in an epic battle at the end of the last film. Imagine if George Lucas had made a sequel to Return of the Jedi where Han Solo wanders around on a random planet, no Luke or Leia in sight, on some perfunctory mission just to keep the Star Wars dollars flowing in. Prequels notwithstanding, the original Star Wars trilogy is still held in high regard because we didn’t see the original characters coming back over and over again to lesser results. Unfortunately, besides Back to the Future, that might be the only series that wasn’t beaten into the ground with sequels. I like seeing my favorite characters come back, I even like quite a lot of sequels, but Hollywood needs to know when to say when.