The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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What's the real reason why audiences flocked to see 'The Hangover Part II'?

May 31, 2011 | 12:25 pm

Hangover My colleague Steven Zeitchik has made a persuasive case that "The Hangover Part II's" utter lack of originality may have doomed it with critics -- who loathed the film -- but made it a huge success with audiences, who showed up in droves over the weekend, turning it into an instant hit. (The movie raked in an estimated $137 million over the five-day weekend.) As Zeitchik points out, the comedy sequels that work the best, at least commercially speaking, are the ones that stick closest to the exact same formula as the original.

So while "Evan Almighty," the follow-up to "Bruce Almighty," was a dud, having changed lead actors and invented a radically different storyline, the sequels to such films as "Austin Powers" and "American Pie" were big hits, even though they basically recycled many of the same gags, characters and situations from the original film.

I think there is actually a familiar term for this: sitcom. Put simply, "Hangover II" was shrewdly conceived as something 13-year-old boys couldn't possibly ever see on TV -- a truly raunchy sitcom. I'm surprised the unhappy critics who were forced to sit through the film didn't figure this out instantly. "Hangover II" is not a movie, it's what might have happened if you'd unleashed Chuck Lorre and let him make "Two and a Half Men" without a network censor. Or better yet, gave Sheldon and all the Cal Tech geeks from "The Big Bang Theory" a laboratory full of intoxicants and free tickets to Thailand. 

So the lack of originality in "Hangover II" was a plus, just as it is for virtually every good network sitcom, which prides itself on finding ways to take familiar characters with familiar personality quirks and give them a new dilemma or problem to solve. "The Hangover II" may have had a bigger budget and played on a bigger screen. But at its core, it was doing what sitcoms have done from time immemorial -- letting us spend time with recognizable characters we really like. The critics may not have gotten the joke, but audiences felt right at home, watching men do what they have always done so well in comedies -- act like idiots.

-- Patrick Goldstein   

Photo: Ed Helms, from left, Ken Jeong and Bradley Cooper in a scene from "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures