‘Cowboys’ succeeds with innovation, ‘Hangover II’ just more of the sameDec. 19, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two films from the summer are on DVD this week. Let’s check them out.
The Hangover II
Boy, did I love “The Hangover.” It was a funny, politically incorrect comedy with a great and inventive structure. Essentially, the film was a mystery with the answers uncovered at the same time by both the main characters and the audience.
The way the film was told elevated it above the usual “crazy guys in Las Vegas” jokes and narrative.
Todd Phillips is not among my favorite comedy directors. His follow-up film to “The Hangover” was the terrible “Due Date,” a film so dreadfully unfunny that it made me wonder if “The Hangover” had been a fluke. I was not a fan either of perhaps his best known film “Old School.”
So, “The Hangover II” was for me the real test. Could Phillips pull off another inventive comedy or would it suffer from being just more of the same? Regrettably, the second film breaks no new ground and simply repeats the format of the first film, although with some different characters and in Bangkok, Thailand, instead of Las Vegas.
In this film, the dentist played by Ed Helms is getting married to a beautiful Thai woman and invites his friends to Thailand for the wedding. Naturally, immense screw-up Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis) does something that deposits the boys in Bangkok in a situation they don’t understand, but includes an amputation and a possible murder.
As in the first film, Doug (played by Justin Bartha) is left out of the action. Bartha needs to get a better agent!
Essentially, Phillips tries to make his gags bigger, louder and grosser. He succeeds in this approach, although his efforts don’t mean they are funnier.
What the director needed to do was to make his second film as innovative as his first one, but instead he did what mainstream Hollywood does best: repeat itself.
If you think about watching this film, do yourself a favor and watch the first one over instead.
Cowboys & Aliens
It’s too bad this film wasn’t a blockbuster as its performance at the box office clouded some people’s perceptions of it. I thought it was a rousing and fun adventure film that fit the bill as a summer visit to the movies.
Daniel Craig plays bad guy Jake Lonergan who wakes up in the middle of nowhere in the Southwest in the 1870s with an odd bracelet attached to him and a case of amnesia. It turns out the bracelet is a weapon and Jake has had a very close encounter with out-of-towners way out of town.
When Jake makes it to the town of Absolution, events escalate. Something or someone in flying vehicles attack the town and Jake earns the attention of the local powerbroker and rancher Col. Dolarhyde, played by a grim Harrison Ford.
It turns out the flying machines are operated by creatures from another world who have a sinister purpose. In the hands of director Jon Favreau, this film is one part Republic Pictures Western, one part Republic Pictures serial and classic B-movie science fiction presented in an exciting package with two very strong performances from Craig and Ford.
It’s interesting to see how Favreau, who started his career in films writing and directing low-budget indie films about relationships, has transformed himself into a guy who can shepherd successful big budget action films, such as the “Ironman” franchise.
This is a popcorn movie of the highest order and a great way to enjoy an afternoon.