The Hangover II * * * *
Cert 15, 101 mins
They’ve swapped a baby for a monkey, Las Vegas for Bangkok and shaved off Zach Galifianikis’ trademark curly mop of hair.
But The Hangover II is still The Hangover I with an extra digit.
Or rather a missing finger if you can stomach the rather more visceral elements that you just know will be part of one of the more must-see sequels in recent years.
Released in 2009, the original film stood out from the crowd not through being rude, but because it was funny.
Viewers raised both thumbs and the worldwide box office duly raked in more than 12 times the film’s original $35 million production budget.
Two days before his wedding to Tracy (Sasha Barrese), Doug (Justin Bartha) went off on his stag do to Las Vegas with best friends Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) and Tracy’s brother Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) in tow.
The following morning, how could they have no memory of the night before?
Why was Stu missing a tooth – and why, when he had a girlfriend called Melissa – had he married a stripper called Jade (Heather Graham)?
After meeting Mike Tyson and discovering that he’d like his tiger back, the boys realised that the clock was ticking down very fast towards Doug and Tracy’s wedding...
If you know all of the above and how cleverly its bookends and end credits were constructed around the main story then you’ll not be surprised by anything which happens in The Hangover II.
And yet, such is the genius of the original movie, it still feels fresh in carbon copy form with some more end credits guaranteed to have anyone who has just popped a boiled sweet in danger of laughing themselves to death.
This time, dentist Stu is getting married for real.
And it’s Phil, Alan and Doug who are travelling with him to Thailand where his straight-talking, future father-in-law is not happy with his daughter Lauren’s (Jamie Chung) bland choice of groom. The boys think they are playing safe by going out for brunch bachelor party, but Stu, Phil and Alan again wake up wondering what happened the night before.
And where on earth is Lauren’s cellist brother Teddy (Mason Lee, son of film directing great Ang Lee) who has also gone with them?
After some splendid opening credits fade into a poor opening ten minutes which labour the latest scenario and reduce the script to taboo language, much of the rest of the film is a breeze compared with most silver screen comedies.
Adding to the strange sense of total recall, even Ken Jeong’s gangster character Leslie Cheow from the first movie has made it to Thailand, too.
As it builds up into another edge-of-seat, race-against-time crescendo, The Hangover II is gleefully fuelled by its high-octane mixture of 007 locations blended with Jackass stunts and any attempted boys-own comedy starring Adam Sandler.
Though blessed with some stunning locations married to an overseas energy not seen since Slumdog Millionaire, the best thing about the sequel is that it is sufficiently well acted to seal the numerous plot holes and logic.
After this men behaving badly franchise settles down, the long-term bonus for Hollywood is that The Hangovers might have made real stars out of Cooper and Helms who have both done exceptionally well this year in significantly different movies like Limitless and Cedar Rapids respectively.
Galifianakis is also highly watchable and being prepared to lose his hair here is a bold move after last year’s interim Todd Phillips’ film Due Date suggested that he might become overly typecast by his physique and appearance. GY
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules * * *
Cert U, 99 mins
The first Wimpy Kid film was made on a fairly low budget but was a huge success at the box office on its release last year, grossing around £50 million. On its opening weekend it beat movies starring the likes of Jennifer Aniston, and stayed in cinemas long after other films had disappeared.
So naturally they were going to make another one, also based on the books, complete with hand-drawn cartoons, by Jeff Kinney.
Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is now in seventh grade, which makes him about 12. He’s thrilled that he’s no longer the youngest, shortest and most bullied kid in middle school, but there are still plenty of problems for him to tackle – mainly arising from Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who is cruel in a way only big brothers can be.
Their mother (Rachael Harris) bribes them into spending more time together in a bid to foster a better relationship.
Greg is still best friends with Rowley (Robert Capron) but he’s fallen for the ‘picture of loveliness’ that is his pretty, blonde and clever new classmate Holly (Peyton List).
Not a great deal happens and what does is predictable. The brothers are left home alone and have a party they have to cover up, and there’s a talent show. Naturally, Greg ends up learning life lessons about brotherly love.
There are quite a few amusing moments. It’s occasionally gross in the kind of harmless way that dirty little boys will love, with jokes about bird poo and fake vomit.
If you think that people falling over is hilarious – and let’s face it, most kids do – then you’ll love this film.
It may well try the patience of older cinemagoers, but it’s designed for people around the age of 10, and it hits its target audience very well. RL
Farewell * * * *
Cert 12A, 113 mins
This French film has been hanging around for 18 months awaiting release, which is usually a bad sign.
But not in this case. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to reach cinemas – and even now you’ll have to seek it out at Birmingham’s MAC – because this witty and gripping thriller is really worth a look.
At least it won’t get out of date, as it’s a period piece, based on a true story. Set in Moscow in 1981, it concerns the downfall of the Soviet bloc.
This is still a world of spies and defectors. French engineer Pierre (Guillaume Canet) isn’t a diplomat but is reluctantly roped into becoming a contact for KGB double agent Sergei (Emir Kusturica). He has to deal with clandestine meetings and passing on top secret files to the West.
Sergei isn’t doing it for money, he just wants to be rewarded with French poems, brandy and Queen tapes for his teenage son. He’s not a traitor, in fact he’s rather idealistic about Communism but realises the country has to change and corrupt leaders must be brought down.
Mitterand (Philippe Magnan) and Reagan (Fred Ward), plus CIA head Willem Dafoe, are amazed at the secrets he gives them. In fact, passing on the names of secret agents was one of the factors hastening the end of the Cold War.
Sergei’s actions also have very personal consequences, for his family and Pierre, and it all builds to a tense, touching and brilliantly-shot climax.
The eclectic cast includes Diane Kruger in a blink-and-you’ll-miss her appearance as a jogger, David Soul and nasty Trevor from EastEnders (Alex Ferns), which just adds to the fascinating intrigue. RL