Two big sequels have arrived; neither matches the original. You’d do well to check out Meek’s Cutoff, a small film about pioneers heading west.
These are the films I’ve reviewed this week:
The Hangover Part II 2 ½ stars
Kung Fu Panda 2 3 stars
Meek’s Cutoff 4 stars
Kaboom 3 stars
Into Eternity 4 stars
Kibatsu Cinema ---
THE HANGOVER PART II: The question is asked two or three times in this sequel. How could the same thing be happening again? Almost exactly the same thing. A bachelor party, a groggy wake up next morning and a search for (a) what had gone on and (b) a character who got lost during a wild night. Last time it all went down in Las Vegas, this time in Bangkok, Thailand.
From a business standpoint, the answer is simple. The first film made close to half a billion dollars. There’s more to be made so watch for some startling numbers for this new one after the weekend. But while the original was clever, inventive and one of the funniest films ever made, this one, in trying to match it, feels belabored and heavy-handed.
Even the cast members don’t look like they’re having much fun. Stu, the dentist, (Ed Helms) is the one getting married this time. Bradley Cooper, as his best friend, and Zach Galifianakis, as his weird and erratic brother-in-law, repeat their roles but their personalities now are much more unpleasant. Only Ken Jeong seems to be truly enjoying himself. He’s dialed up his Mr. Chow, the gangster into a full-on Fred Lee impression.
Laughs are intermittent as quite a few of the jokes fall flat and the film fails to hit the giddy heights of the first one. Its key efforts to bring on the chuckles involve turning up the gross factor, or the bizarre (like Thailand’s ladyboy scene) and the culturally insensitive (a noisy visit to a Buddhist monastery). The antics of a drug-courier monkey don’t add much but do allow one character to set the humor benchmark with this line: “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language.” For some, maybe. (5th Avenue, International Village, Dunbar, Oakridge, Rio on Broadway and many suburban theatres) 2 1/2 out of 5
KUNG FU PANDA 2: My six-year-old grandson had it this way. He said he likes this sequel better than the original because it has much more action. If that’s your sole criterion, you’ll give it high marks too. There are chases and flying sequences and big battles beautifully rendered in both sparkling animation and 3D that’s worthwhile for a change. The images have depth and clarity and, better yet, the filmmakers acknowledge the gimmick side of 3D. It’s fun when they throw or shove things towards us or pull us in. What’s missing though, and my grandson forgot, is the story that made the original so charming.
In ancient China, Po, a chubby kid (actually a panda, voiced by Jack Black) struggled to prove himself at a school for kung fu warriors. It’s a universal theme for boys trying to find their place in the world. In this second film, he’s searching for his roots (remember, he’s an orphan) but that’s not as well-developed and doesn’t carry the same emotional weight. Also, he’s older now, a teenager perhaps, and not as cute anymore. He’s a dragon warrior who thinks pretty highly of himself. He has become Jack Black. Enter Gary Oldman, as a peacock, intent on defeating the kung fu warriors and taking over China. His got giant cannons which fill the screen with destruction and pyrotechnics. Po and his pals (voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and others) fight back within some truly spectacular animated sequences. (Fifth Avenue, Scotiabank, Oakridge, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
MEEK’S CUTOFF: I wasn’t a big fan of Kelly Reichardt’s last film, Wendy and Lucy. That story, about a woman searching for her lost dog, was too slow and minimalist for me. This new film is also slow in many spots but there’s so much going on, often unspoken, that it gives you far more to think about. You can even see the whole thing, set in 1845, as an allegory of more recent events, although the film downplays that sub-text.