The Hangover 2 Repeats The Non-Linear Method: Crazy or Crazy Smart?

When the full trailer for The Hangover: Part II landed online, the derision and disappointment was thick. It’s the exact same movie, but in Thailand. It’s all there — a monkey instead of a tiger, an old man instead of a baby, facial disfigurement, a lost man, and the slow-motion strut of The Wolfpack.
For some, this is fine. Why mess with what works? Give me more. I liked the first one, I’ll watch a Thailand remake of it. Others are disappointed that it seems like such a cut and paste job. Remember, the sequel was greenlit before America had met the Wolfpack or could collectively spell Zack Galifinakis, and Todd Phillips was tossing around ideas as he did press rounds. I don’t think it was too much to expect that we’d get an entirely new set of drunken adventures — one that didn’t rely on the same props — in an exotic setting. (To be fair, there has been only one trailer. It may have merely been cut to resemble the first movie for maximum profitability, and there’s some wacky, subversive stuff hiding behind “Oh no, another exotic animal!” scene.)
But there is one element I think The Hangover: Part II was wise to keep, and that’s its non-linear story. It’s become popular to rail against this film and all it stood for, as if its massive box office was responsible for the decay of Western civilization as we know it. But The Hangover was a funny enough film — I haven’t heard its enthusiasts claim it’s the pinnacle of Western civilization — and it deserves some credit for adopting an unusual narrative style.
Someone out there is scoffing. I know non-linear methods are common in drama, but they’re quite rare in comedy. Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen have both used it for laughs, but they’re often a bit grim.
500 Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Happiness could all be described as non-linear comedies, but they’re also guilty of beating you up, and leaving you unsure whether you should laugh or cry. The closest I can find (and this is after a bit of Googling) to a shifty narrative comedy is Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck, which is sort of like Daffy Duck crossed with Sucker Punch and Inception.
Now, I’m not saying The Hangover was brilliant, daring or elevated comedic narrative to new and astonishing heights. Many comedies work on the assumption that you don’t know what’s around the corner. I won’t say the majority — just as many work on the audience knowing the banana peel is there, and eagerly awaiting the doofus who will slip on it. The Hangover isn’t exactly new in springing tigers or naked Asian men simultaneously on the audience and characters. What was fun and innovative (in the loosest sense of the word) was staging it like a mystery and forcing the characters to behave like mind ravaged detectives dependent on the scraps of information they could find in pockets and car trunks. It’s kind of like Memento, only without the inner torment and identity crisis. (It’s also like Dude, Where’s My Car but I don’t think it’s polite to mention.) It demanded a little more patience and investment from audiences than the usual comedy. You had to trust the payoff would be there at the end of the trail, instead of smacking the characters right in the face. And it was enjoyable because we could identify with their confusion, fear, and gaping memories. The best comedies are ones that exploit situations you can recognize, and we’ve all been in the position of the Wolfpack at least once in our lives. (If you haven’t, you’re so lucky, and will live ten years longer than the rest of us.) Few of us pack such a powerful evidence trail, though. One generally has to rely on the testimony of friends or acquaintances, and that can edge into Sammy Jenkins territory when it doesn’t add up with the pants or shoes you wore home.
But I digress. The point is, it’s the one conceit that The Hangover: Part II is very smart to spin again, particularly since they’re combining it with an exotic locale where government unrest, organized crime, drugs and sex trafficking are slightly more common than they are in Las Vegas. Throw in a language barrier, and you’re only one Ed Helms removed from remaking Return to Paradise. It’s a heady, funny, and potentially terrifying journey through bits of detritus and scrambled memory. There’s a lot of potential in such a fractured structure. You could even build a narrative out of what the hapless Wolfpack wants to believe over what actually happened. A Nolanesque comedy! What laughs and uneasiness could await!
Unfortunately, the monkey probably belongs to Mike Tyson, who will perform a little Phil Collins at a karaoke bar. The nonlinear narrative is genius, relatively speaking. The script probably isn’t.

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