Nikki Finke’s deadline.com carries a compelling account of Warner Brothers’ sequel negotiations with the stars of The Hangover, who received less than a million dollars between them for the unassuming comedy that became a half-billion-dollar global box-office smash. (That $1 million doesn’t count the bonus of a million apiece the studio gave them shortly before commencing talks.) Production of Hangover 2 would normally be well underway by now, but Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms presented a united front. Mike Fleming calls it “a perfect storm of leverage”.
The Hangover is a divisive movie—embraced with a greedy thirst by the masses, but considered seriously overrated by some. The funny thing about this is that the most notable quality of the movie, in general, is intelligence. (Sure, there’s low humour in it; can we take as axiomatic the patronizing explanation that there are pee jokes in Shakespeare and Swift and Sterne? I mean, I’m happy to patronize you if you really need it.) I found The Hangover much more admirable than hilarious. It took the cliché of the “increasingly chaotic and risky Vegas blowout” and essentially gave it a highly original time-travel twist without recourse to outright science fiction. Though I’ll concede that its ideas about the effects of Rohypnol are a little science-y and fiction-y.
The plot is intricate, but clear and free of detectable loose ends; it has the satisfying click-clack of a Rubik’s Cube, with the end credits as the satisfying flourish that finally restores order and clarity. All four of the main characters have or develop specifiable, interesting relationships with one another. Little comedy grace notes—most memorably, Ed Helms’ “Stu’s Song” piano number—impart some of the tenor of undirected real life to the tight, logic-driven narrative that yokes the characters. There’s legitimate suspense. And the whole thing kicks off with a demonstration of in medias res technique that would give a classics professor an erection. It’s a model exercise in screenwriting, and will certainly be used as one for decades.
So how, to ask the question that’s already on the minds of 60 or 70 million audience members, can the sequel not suck? The Hangover was attractive for its originality. By definition, it’s hard to see how a sequel could possibly succeed. And it’s easy to see how it could become a wearisome exercise in revisiting gags from the original. “Oh, no, it’s Mike Tyson! This can’t be good!” Even coming up with a first approximation to a premise for Hangover 2 is difficult; actually writing the thing seems like it would be a task on the same order of complexity as a lunar landing. Everybody wants the Wolf Pack reunited, but nobody wants to walk into the theatre on opening night and hear the words “Dammit, Alan! I can’t believe you roofied us again!”