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Did a lack of originality help 'The Hangover Part II' this weekend?

May 30, 2011 |  1:00 pm

The raised eyebrows started pretty much the moment the trailer hit the Web.

"The Hangover Part II," Todd Phillips' follow-up to his 2009 smash, wasn't just bringing back the same characters and actors as the R-rated original. It was returning the same structure and plot devices -- good friends lose track of someone from their group during a bachelor-party bender and must then piece together what happened. The pre-release line on "The Hangover" was "It's original and crazy." The pre-release line on "The Hangover 2" was: "Isn't this the same movie I saw two years ago?"

Critics didn't help as the reviews began to roll out: the Rotten Tomatoes score for the new Bradley Cooper-led ensemble comedy was a dismal 36%. (The original notched a respectable 79%.)

And yet when the movie opened this weekend, audiences devoured it. "The Hangover Part II" took in more than $86 million in the Friday-Sunday period alone, the biggest total for any 2-D offering this year. The film's five-day weekend haul of $137 million helped this Memorial Day weekend set an all-time record, downright stunning in a year when most weekends have seen drops over previous years.

Even more remarkable is that the comedy is on pace in the U.S. to outgross the original -- no mean feat when you consider the first film tallied $277 million to become the most lucrative R-rated comedy of all time.  How did it manage all of this?

Comedy sequels are a strange bunch. Many of them don't get made in the first place (witness studios pulling the plug this year on new "Anchorman" and "Zoolander" films). And those that do often disappoint, both at the box office and with fans. Some are outright dogs -- hi, "Sex and the City 2." Others just peter out quietly.  You can extend movies in genres such as science-fiction and horror with relative ease. Try to continue the funny and you frequently end up with yawns.

But if you start ticking off the successes and failures, a pattern begins to emerge: Those that succeed tend to hew very closely to their originals. Once they start departing from what got them laughs and dollars in the first place, their chances of success dip.

There are exceptions, of course. But the pattern holds up surprisingly often, as a quick look at the comedy sequels that tried to mix up the formula demonstrate. "Evan Almighty,"  the follow-up to Jim Carrey's God comedy "Bruce Almighty," made some notable switches when it came out in 2007. Gone was the lead actor, for instance, as was the premise of the divine in everyday life, replaced by politics and a biblical flood. The movie's global box office plummeted by $300 million from the original.

Then there was  "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which changed up much of its supporting cast and tweaked its concept from a science-based comedy to a historical one. It, too, grossed considerably less than its predecessor.

When filmmakers make even more radical changes, things can really get gummed up. A few years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen decided to take a different one of his clueless foreigner characters from cable television instead of continuing the antics of "Borat." The resulting film, "Bruno," took in less than half of the "Borat" total. Studio comedies are comfort food, and we generally don't want the same dishes made with new ingredients.

In contrast, the few comedy sequels that have worked in recent years rehashed the same shtick.  "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," for instance, came back with an almost identical set of gags in 1999 and vastly outdid its first installment. Ditto for "Meet the Fockers" and "American Pie 2." Few would say filmmakers were doing anything dramatically different with these sequels. But the lack of chance-taking, paradoxically, paid off.

Phillips and the "Hangover" screenwriters have caught some heat for playing it safe. After a major blockbuster, Phillips had the clout to do pretty much whatever he liked with his characters in "The Hangover Part II." Why, after making such a bold movie, would he just try to do the same thing with a new backdrop? But while Phillips may have made a creatively questionable decision, he made a savvy financial move. Comedy sequels have a better shot at the dollars if they stick to what got them there.

If that sounds a little depressing, there is some solace in another fact. Once a movie generates this much money in a second installment, there's usually a third edition not far behind. But audiences tend to punish those movies no matter how safely they play it.

So there might yet be some karmic justice for those not enamored of "The Hangover Part II" -- in 2013.


Bradley Cooper: I'm worried about The Hangover sequel too

With the Hanogver Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2, it's the biggest Memorial Day weekend ever

The Hangover Part II trailer takes us back to an earlier day

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.


Comments () | Archives (26)

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There is at least 2 more guys left to get married, so at least 2 more sequels should be coming our way.

Haven't they basically made the same Pirates of the Caribbean movie four times?

It most definitely did. People are seemingly growing dumber and dumber with each day. They keep on lowering their standards, so everything seems great. They seem to despise people with informed and educated opinions. It's one thing to disagree with critics, but they go the extra length to demonize critics.
Knowing full well that such movies as Hangover 2 are bad or lackluster, they throw their money at it anyway, only to come out either not liking the movie or agreeing with critics. Yes, some gush about how GREAT such a movie is, but those are the ones with no standards. They accept whatever Hollywood throws out there. Many of them even like the movie before they've seen it.

There are millions and millions of film students in this country who, because of the Hollywood system, may never have their work seen. Granted, most of these students can't make movies, much like most students who paint or write poetry are likely not very good at it. But there are still hungry, gifted, aspiring filmmakers with original stories and artistic vision that could make a significant artistic impact, if not sell millions of dollars worth of theater tickets and DVD's. If the studio system doesn't wise up and start taking greater risk when funding films, we're all doomed to a world of The Hangover IX's and Return of the Return of the Jedi's.

We're Americans. If we can't find a better way of doing things, then we should keep searching. Creativity in this country has taken a rumble seat to the proverbial bottom line. Should we not do everything in our power to correct this we will most certainly find ourselves in a world of eternal reruns.

Please. I'm so tired of people acting like personal taste in film is a matter of intelligence, class or breeding. As if disagreeing with the critics means you're simply too dumb to understand the difference between quality art and "hollywood swill".

Sorry if I don't feel like watching drawn-out high-brow dramas like "There Will Be Blood" every day of my life. I happen to enjoy campy, cheesy comedies; "Stepbrothers" and "The Hangover" are still some of my favorite movies ever.

People make too big a deal out of "originality", whatever that means. It's 2011; pretty much everything has already been done before. Yes, "Hangover Part 2" was exactly like the first one. It was also hilarious. All this feigned anger over its lack of originality is typical of American film critics and the cult of U.S. movie-goers and film school graduates who fancy themselves more cultured and knowledgeable than the unwashed masses. They need to fuel their egos by turning up their noses at anything

Frankly, when I select a movie, I want to be diverted and entertained. There are some good movies out there, but it seems much of what we get is boring, depressing, "statement movies" made so actors and directors feel they are making "serious , important art". In the same vein, James Joyce may have been a fabulously freaky word spinner but for the most part, his books are praised by academics wanting to prove how academic they are. Ho hum. If I want that crap I will read the papers or watch the news instead of going to a movie.

At least with some comedy sequels, there is the expectation of some light refreshing entertainment.

lacking intellectual discourse, multi-cultural import, or vast overarching life lessons that are just as overdone as any fart joke or penis gag. It's a matter of taste, not intelligenc. Lacking a sense of humor doesn't make you any more "discerning" or "high-brow" thank anyone else. It just makes you boring.

I don't see the success of Hangover II as the dumbing of America. I see it as evidence that Americans are desperate for entertainment in a time of economic uncertainty.

Since when do critics know the pulse of the American people? The outrageous success of this movie and numerous others that critics trash highlight that people don't attend movies for the same reasons that critics evaluate. People want to be entertained. Critics evaluate movies based on their personal interpretation of what they think a movie should evoke. Not all movies need to be eternal classics and critics need to strat representing the American people rather than projecting some lofty value they learned at NYU...

It ain't a record . . . if you adjust for inflation. Which the LA Times failed to do.

Please correct.

Well I like a million of The Hangover 1 and 2 fans loved this movie and welcome a third no matter what you haters feel. You guys need to lighten up this is a comedy and we love it (doesn't the box office tell you anything) duh!

Must be that "edgy" racist humor American audiences love.

American Pie series would be another good example of a safe but uninspired sequel outperforming the original. The 3rd one switched up the formula. I can't find a gross on that but I'd assume it didn't do as well.

@todorojo: Phillips was once a film school student. he was a "hungry, gifted, aspiring filmmaker with original stories and artistic vision." he made his bones, the hollywood system gave him a shot and now he makes them money by doing what he loves.

Ok, you guys are all complaining about how it lacks originallity....nobody cares....you get paid to watchh and criticize movies for a living, how about you find something better to do with your life, and start seeing what the public thinks of these films, cause your opinions are yours to express, but jesus stop trying to make things semm more crappy or rediculous than they actually are. This is America, and last I checked the people are who judge how things go around here, and judging by all the money this movie and movies similar to it have mad the first night and throughtout all of its sales, I'd have to say there's something wrong with trying to make something seem crappy or poorly made when it clearly made more money than the movies "critics" say were amazing. My point here is...just because one person says something is poorly done or bade or even good, doesn't mean it is, go see it or experience it yourself, and you be the judge...don't let someone else express a false representation of your opinion. That's what America is about, being yourself, expressing what you believe.

This article is bizarre. Clearly just a ploy to get traffic, but it's without logic.

BORAT: Borat comes to America. BRUNO: Bruno ... comes to America. So how is that "radical"?

And the following quote: "after making such a bold movie..." is total malarkey. HANGOVER was safe as jello. HANGOVER 2 is much riskier. Also, the fact that Phillips made DUE DATE last doesn't get mentioned.

Kinda weak, Zeitchik. I feel bad for you that you have to work on the holiday, but this is phoned-in nonsense.

Critics loved the first one because it came out of nowhere with moderately obscure actors.

It is their job to hate the second no matter what. Critics lose their street cred if they support something that is already popular.

People loved this movie giving it an average grade of A- in post viewing polls. So it is obviously funny. Let's hope it destroys all records.

If critics had any talent in area of life, then they wouldn't be critics.

I love that you have to be dumb to like certain movies...the fact is Hangover and Hangover 2 were both very very funny...Only liking movies that are shown in 5 theaters or are about teaching a King how to speak without stuttering doesn't make you any smarter than anyone else...What it does show is your inability to enjoy anything
..how miserable to go through life like that....I hope they make 10 more Hangovers

oh and I already love HANGOVER 3

It seems that the folks that paid to see this movie were for the most part fans of the original and therefore wanted to see for themselves where the story is going and hopefully enjoy a few laughs. When next weekend comes we will see that sales for Hangover 2 probably will have a sharp decline because the public will now know it is not up to par. There will of course be those who enjoyed it for their own various reasons. The critic bashers on here seem just as arrogant as they accuse the critics of being. The fact is, criticism is important and only helps bring about quality entertainment. Sometimes we will all disagree with critical consensus depending on personal taste and experience but usually most critics do give logical reasons for why they think something is or isn't of quality. There are good reasons why certain films stand the test of time, and here the critics know Hangover 2 doesn't have that potential.

Can we also cut this American audience crap...the first Hangover made just under $200 MILLION overseas that's MILLION with an M...can't wait for another riveting movie about a stuttering British guy

Sequels do better for a reason. One, ticket prices go up by the time the sequel is ready, and two, in the case of a movie like "The Hangover" which has great word of mouth, not only does it do well at the box office, but additional people see it at home on Netflix or DVD and become fans, thus upping the totals for the sequel!

Hangover II is like a ballpark hotdog. Sure, we know what's in it, but we always get one.

Oh, c'mon. You're stretching things quite a bit to fit it into the narrative of your blog post. The reason why Evan Almighty tanked was soley because it lacked Jim Carrey. It's exactly like any Jim Carreyless Jim Carrey sequel has failed. And Night at the Museum 2 failed because, well, perhaps people kind of realized the first one wasn't all that good.

Instead of backing up your faulty logic with easily fallible "facts", why not just put out there that people wanted to see the movie because it was a major Hollywood film that it possessed a voice that was somewhat original (for a major Hollywood film) that resonated with people.

You know what? Who cares if he played it safe or not. We missed the charactors and wanted to see them together again. It was cool to to see them solidify and agree on the "pack". They stuck it out enough to consider tjemselves family and friendships that even included a nice suprise ending.. Tyson even "got it!". "I want in!"

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