“THE HANGOVER, PART II” (2011) Review

“THE HANGOVER, PART II” (2011) Review

Two years after the success of the blockbuster comedy, “THE HANGOVER”, director Todd Phillips followed up with a sequel about the lead characters’ adventures in Bangkok, Thailand, following another disastrous bachelor’s party. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis returned to star in this sequel. 

In this sequel, Phil Wenneck, Doug Billings, and Alan Garner accompany Stuart “Stu” Price to Thailand to celebrate his upcoming wedding a woman of Thai descent named Lauren at a beach resort outside of Bangkok. Much to Alan’s dismay, Lauren’s younger brother, a medical student named Teddy, joins them. Despite disapproval from Lauren’s father, who compares Stu to rice porridge, the wedding party goes according to plan. Unfortunately, the four friends and Teddy take part in a mini bachelor’s party on the beach. Although Phil insures that the beer they are drinking had not been tampered by the infantile Alan; he, Stu and Alan awaken the following morning at a dirty Bangkok hotel. Apparently, Doug had left the party a little earlier to join his wife at their hotel room. They also discover gangster Leslie Chow (whom they first met in Las Vegas) and a chain-smoking capuchin monkey. Stu has a face tattoo and Alan’s head is completely shaven. However, the three friends cannot find Teddy. They only find his severed finger. And as Chow begins recalling the events of the previous night, his heart stops after snorting a line of cocaine. Panicked, the trio dispose of Chow’s body in an ice machine and begin their search for the missing Teddy.

In conclusion, I must admit that I found “THE HANGOVER, PART II” very entertaining. One, I loved the Thailand setting and cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s photography of the locations. Two, director Todd Phillips did a great job in maintaining the movie’s pacing, ensuring that I would never fall asleep. Three, the chemistry between the main cast seemed as potent as ever. I noticed that Phillips continued the chemistry between Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis from the first movie. However, I was a little disappointed that Justin Bartha did not take part in the trio’s adventures in this movie. Instead of being the missing person (as he was in the first film), his character left the bachelor party before it all went to hell.

However, Phillips did find a way to bring back Ken Jeong as gangster Leslie Chow. And he was as funny as ever. In fact, one of Jeong’s funniest scenes featured the trio and Chow’s arrival at a high-class hotel restaurant to meet an American gangster (and undercover Interpol agent) named Kingsley. Other funny scenes include Stu’s discovery that he had drug-induced sex with a Kathoey prostitute, Phil’s reaction to getting shot by a Russian gangster, Mike Tyson’s surprise appearance and performance at Stu and Lauren’s wedding, and a crazy car chase through the streets of nighttime Bangkok.

But was “THE HANGOVER, PART II” funnier or just as funny as the 2009 movie? I can honestly say . . . no. The first twenty minutes of the film did not strike me as particularly funny, no matter how much humor Scot Armstrong, Craig Mazin and Todd Phillips tried to wring from the script. The ending seemed a bit too cheesy and sentimental at times. And why on earth did they include a scene in which the trio and Chow dropped off the badly wounded monkey (who had been shot in the stomach) at a veterinary clinic. The movie also featured an appearance from Paul Giamatti, who was far from funny in his role as fake gangster/undercover Interpol agent Kingsley. And this was a major disappointment, considering Giamatti’s talent for humor. And I wish that Nick Cassavetes’ cameo as a Bangkok tattoo artist could have been a bit funny. I suspect that if Mel Gibson had been in the role, he would have garnered a lot more laughs. I could say the same for Mason Lee (Ang Lee’s son), who made a less funnier missing person than Bartha. As for Nirut Sirijanya, he seemed downright humorless as Stu’s disapproving father-in-law-to-be. I realize that his character was humorless, but so was Melissa, Stu’s former girlfriend. But actress Rachael Harris portrayed the humorless Melissa with a great deal of comedic skill. I cannot say the same for Sirijanya.

Many people had complained that “THE HANGOVER, PART II” more or less followed the same plot formula as “THE HANGOVER”. And they would be right. Like in the first film, the characters experienced the following:

*a hangover from drugs fed to them by the socially challenged Alan
*a missing person who is locked in some space at the hotel they had awaken
*Stu experiences a physical impairment (a tattoo in this film, a missing tooth in the last)
*Stu becomes involved with a prostitute
*theft of someone’s pet animal (in this case, a monkey)
*Phil is hospitalized
*a red herring situation regarding the missing person
*Stu sings
*Phil is forced to admit not knowing the location of missing person
*Stu figures out the location of the missing person
*

Well, you get the drift. The only reason I am willing to tolerate this lack of originality on the screenwriters’ parts is due to the fact that I still managed to enjoy the movie. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis not only proved that they were still funny, but could also be an effective comedy team. Thanks to the movie’s humorous story and performances, and the exotic Thai locations, I am certainly looking forward to the DVD release of “THE HANGOVER, PART II”.

“LIMITLESS” (2011) Review

“LIMITLESS” (2011) Review

When I first saw the movie trailer for the new “techno-thriller” called “LIMITLESS”, I must admit that I found myself intrigued by the plot’s premise. But I never felt any real anticipation to see the movie. Its premise struck me as the type that could easily make or break a film. 

Based upon Alan Glynn’s 2001 novel, “The Dark Fields”“LIMITLESS” told the story of a New York City writer named Eddie Morra, who is approached by his former brother-in-law (also drug dealer) to try out a new experimental drug. According to brother-in-law Vernon Grant, this NZT-48 has the ability for humans to access 100% of the brain’s power, as opposed to the normal 20% (which is in reality, a myth). Eddie accepts, and, much to his surprise, the drug works, allowing him to finish his book. Determined to continue using NZT-48, Eddie returns to Vernon for more of the drug. He runs a few errands for Vernon, returns to the latter’s apartment and finds him dead. Eddie also finds a large supply of NZT-48 hidden in Vernon’s oven. Thrilled by the impact of NZT-48, Eddie turns to the world of finance and attracts the attention of a high powered businessman named Carl Van Loon. He also attracts the attention of a Russian gangster named Gennady, from whom he borrowed money in order to enter the stock market on a large scale. And Eddie eventually discovers that the mysterious person who had killed Vernon, has been stalking him. Even worse, he learns from his ex-wife Melissa that anyone who ceases to use NZT-48 for a period of time, risks his or her health

I must admit that I was very impressed by “LIMITLESS”. First of all, I feel that Leslie Dixon wrote an excellent screenplay that had at least one or two minor flaws. I could not compare his screenplay to Glynn’s novel, because I have never read the latter. A family member who had read the novel informed me that Dixon did maintain the first person narrative, allowing leading actor Bradley Cooper to provide a first-rate narrative. Dixon also maintained the novel’s peek into the human psyche and our desire for power, prestige and money through any means possible. A good example of this desire came from the main character’s willingness to use the NZT-48 to make more money and at the same, not bother to hide his accomplishments. This unwillingness on Eddie’s part to bypass open acknowledgement led to a great deal of unwanted attention from people like Carl Van Loon, Gennady and his murderous stalker. One would think that“LIMITLESS” could easily be an ode to human brain power. And yet . . . I found it ironic that despite using 100 percent of their brains after using NZT-48, characters like Eddie and a few others failed to consider all aspects of their situations. And this failure either endangered their lives . . . or ended it. So, exactly how limitless was this drug?

As I had stated in the above paragraph, there were a few aspects of the movie’s plot that I would consider as flaws. After an encounter with the Russian thug Gennady, Eddie found himself without a NZT-48 pill and his life endangered. He had to go to his girlfriend Lindy’s office and recruit her to fetch his supply, which he had hidden inside her apartment. On her way back to her office and Eddie, Lindy found herself being followed by Eddie’s mysterious stalker. Why was he following her? How did he know that she had Eddie’s supply of NZT-48 on her in the first place? How did he know that she had gone to her own apartment for Eddie’s pills? I am certain that someone can explain this . . . mysteryto me. Because I still cannot explain it. In the movie’s final sequence, which featured a last meeting between political candidate Eddie and Van Loon, the latter revealed his knowledge of the NZT-48 pills that Eddie had been taking, his purchase of the company that had been manufacturing the drug and his shutdown of Eddie’s private supply lab. Exactly how did Van Loon find out about the NZT-48 drug? Who told him? Because the businessman never did reveal how he had found out. The only thing he was ascertained of was Eddie’s occasional bizarre behavior.

I was very impressed by Neil Burger’s direction of the film. One important factor to the success of the film was that Burger managed to maintain a brisk pace throughout the entire film. And this is an important factor for me, because if there is anything that will divert my attention from any movie, it is slow pacing. Two, with cinematographer Jo Willems, and editors Tracy Adams and Naomi Geraghty; Burger presented this tale with original photography and editing that at times I found rather mind blowing. One of my favorite sequences featured Eddie’s discovery that the NZT-48 drug allowed him transport from one location to another without his knowledge. I felt as if I was on a PCP trip, while watching the sequence, without feeling any confusion whatsoever. Another favorite sequence of mine featured the last meeting between Eddie and Van Loon, at the former’s campaign headquarters. It was a sequence filled with snappy dialogue, great pacing and superb performances by both Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. Overall, I think that Burger’s original direction did justice to Dixon’s script and especially to Glynn’s novel.

The cast for “LIMITLESS” was outstanding. Tomas Arana gave a quiet and intense performance as the mysterious man in the tan coat, who was stalking Eddie. And Abbie Cornish was intelligent as Eddie’s book editor girlfriend, Lindy. Aside from one sequence, I thought her role could have had a stronger presence. On the other hand, Anna Friel made the most of her one scene in the movie, as Eddie’s former wife Melissa Gant, who had also taken the NZT-48. I was also impressed by Johnny Whitworth’s performance as Vernon Gant, the drug dealer who had hooked Eddie on to NZT-48. Sleaze had never looked classy. Welsh actor Andrew Howard injected style, if not class into his role as the Russian thug Grennady. And he did so without developing his character into a cliché. It has been a while since I have seen Robert DeNiro in a worthwhile role. And I must say that I found his portrayal of the subtle and intelligent Carl Van Loon as one of his best in several years. He was right on target in portraying a no-nonsense and powerful businessman that had risen to the top by his own intelligence and hard work. But the man of the hour . . . or movie was Bradley Cooper. And he gave a complex and superb performance as the novelist, whose life is changed by one little pill. Cooper proved that he had what it takes to become a Hollywood powerhouse, as he guided the role of Eddie Morra from a sad sack loser to a self-assured think tank through various little triumphs and setbacks. He certainly deserves to become a full-fledged star, thanks to his performance in this movie.

“LIMITLESS” has its minor flaws. After all, no movie is perfect. But I must admit that I found it a very entertaining and intelligent film. Director Neil Burger did justice to both Alan Glynn’s novel and Leslie Dixon’s first-rate script. And he had a superb cast, lead by a very talented Bradley Cooper to help him. This is one movie I can never get tired of watching.