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Studio has last laugh as 'Hangover' sequel puts critics in their place


Amid the critical scorn marking the release of The Hangover Part II last Thursday, one American writer suggested that the movie was the apogee of a new "mutant sub-genre" of film: the jokeless comedy. Fast forward to Monday morning though, and such reviews could hardly have looked any more irrelevant, at least as far as the bosses and bean counters at Warner Bros studios were concerned.

The movie took a record $118m (£72m) at the US box office during its opening weekend, and is expected to record the best debut figure achieved by a comedy. That success was repeated in the UK, where takings of £10m made it the best launch for an American comedy in cinema history, and the best opening overall so far this year. Nor did the film's massive audiences feel afterwards that they had merely been conned into watching a dud by a cunning marketing campaign. Cinema exit polls gave it an A minus, while the review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes recorded a 94 per cent satisfaction rate from almost 45,000 ratings – against the critics' approval figure of just 34 per cent.

Those paid to offer their opinions may not have been fans of the movie, which follows the shenanigans of four Americans on a debauched stag weekend in Bangkok, but Zach Galifianakis's character, Alan, clearly struck a chord with cinema-goers with the words: "When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it's funny in any language."

The disparity between the critics and the paying public rarely appears quite this stark, but such events have become more common in recent years. The 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code is considered the epitome of this, having raked in three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide despite being almost universally panned by critics. Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen achieved a similar feat in 2009, as has the Twilight series of teen vampire movies.

Media analysts say part of the reason is down to an increase in the number of sequels being released. While journalists may scoff at a director or producer sticking to a tried and tested formula, studios conservatively trust that audiences are more likely to base their cinema-going choices on what they thought of a previous film, rather than trusting a negative critical response.

Charles Gant, film editor of Heat magazine, said the same is often true of adaptations of books and comics. "Generally reviews are not that relevant to the success of huge blockbusters with huge marketing campaigns behind them," he said, "especially if they are based to some degree on what we call 'known elements'."

It is also arguable that the typical tastes and demographics of film reviewers tend to be furthest removed from the audiences of films such as The Hangover Part II.

"Critics don't really consider the market when they write their reviews," said Mr Gant. "If their job was just to predict if a movie was going to be a hit, then there wouldn't really be much point in them seeing the movies, because they can just judge that by the marketing campaign.

"In the case of this film, critics have been disappointed that it's so similar to the original, but if people love the first movie and want to see the same film again except set in Thailand, then The Hangover Part II delivers."

A hit at the box office - a miss with the critics

$118.1m: The Hangover Part II's takings in its first four days at the US box office
$16.4m: Its takings in the UK over the same period – the best ever for a US comedy
$59m: Its worldwide gross in 40 other countries since its release last week

* "Director [Todd] Phillips whips along ... at break-neck speed, perhaps in the hope that we won't notice how all the quirks we loved the first time are nothing like as funny the second time, and no amount of wishing will make them so." Anthony Quinn, 'The Independent'

* "According to Phillips, the 'Part II' in the title is a nod to the second 'Godfather', which matched the genius of its forerunner. Ironically, his own sequel offer is one you should refuse." Nick de Semlyen, 'Empire'

"The generic car chases and gunplay are contrived and unexciting. Since the dialogue isn't funny, everyone overacts to make up for the lack of humour or threat." Nigel Floyd, 'Time Out'

* "The stock dismissal "more of the same" has rarely been more accurately applied to a sequel than to 'The Hangover Part II', which ranks as little more than a faded copy of its predecessor." Andrew Barker, 'Variety'

"'The Hangover Part II' arrives much like a hangover — bludgeoning, harsh and relentless — yet it's a notable, even groundbreaking film. It represents the logical evolution of a roughly five-year trend: someone has finally dared to make a mainstream American comedy in which nothing funny happens." Adam Sternbergh, 'The New York Times'

* "Oh, what a headache-inducing, unapologetic money grab. By the time Bradley Cooper says, "You know the drill," and the guys start emptying their pockets in search of clues to the latest debacle, you'll be more inclined to groan than giggle." Betsy Sharkey, 'Los Angeles Times'

* "I left 'The Hangover Part II' feeling dazed and abused, wondering how bad things happened to such a good comedy. To paraphrase Ken Jeong's memorable mobster, Mr. Chow, "I want answers, bitches." How could a 2009 raunchfest that slapped a grin on my face I couldn't unglue degenerate into this?" Peter Travers, 'Rolling Stone'