The Hangover Part II, Todd Phillips, 102 mins, 15<br/>Heartbeats, Xavier Dolan, 100 mins, 15<br/>Life, Above All, Oliver Schmitz, 105 mins, 12A

What's the last thing you need the morning after the night before? The hair of the dog...
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Halfway through The Hangover Part II, one character wails: "I can't believe this is happening again!" I know how he feels.

The use of "Part II" in the title might imply that it's the second chapter of a continuing story, but in reality it's a scene-by-scene remake of 2009's hit comedy. Again, it's got the cocky Bradley Cooper, the buttoned-up Ed Helms, and the not-all-there Zach Galifianakis going on a stag night with a fourth friend. Again, it has them waking up with no memory of the previous 12 hours, and no idea where that fourth friend has gone. And again, they're on a Chandleresque odyssey around an unfamiliar city where they swear a lot, get hit in the face, and try to piece together what happened.

The only difference is that The Hangover Part II is set in Bangkok, which is represented as one of the less salubrious Circles of Hell. It's a change for the better. The first film was set in Las Vegas, the home of slot machines and Celine Dion concerts, so it hardly took the heroes out of their comfort zone. This time, their ordeal is so grim that the film threatens to stop being a comedy and become a dark thriller with a few genitalia jokes thrown in.

What it is of course is a blatant cash-in, but in some ways, The Hangover Part II is an exemplary sequel, in that it gives fans exactly what they enjoyed two years ago, but with a bigger budget. And it does have its funny moments, with enough left-field non sequiturs from Galifianakis and Ken Jeong to stop it being too predictable. It's only the insufferable, self-congratulatory finale that makes you pray that there won't be a Part III. Please, let The Hangover be over.

Heartbeats is the second film to be written and directed by Xavier Dolan, a 22-year-old French-Canadian. And if that weren't terrifying enough, Dolan is also one of the three stars, playing a gay man who falls madly in lust with the same tousled Adonis as his straight female best friend. Both of these friends are too self-conscious to admit how they feel, so they embark on stealth campaigns to impress the obscure object of their desire, while maintaining the pretence that they're as close and supportive as ever.

It's a piquant, low-budget comedy about under-employed twentysomethings, the kind of thing which is usually shot using horribly cheap video cameras, but Dolan and his team have made it look luxuriantly attractive: Heartbeats would be half an hour shorter if it weren't for all the slow-motion sequences of beautiful people sashaying to the strains of a Bach cello concerto. The perfume-ad aesthetic will put some viewers off, but the pretension is balanced by sharp, spare dialogue, and tenderly drawn, recognisable characters. Who knows what Dolan will be capable of when he's 23?

Life, Above All is a film about today's Africa, but it echoes John Steinbeck and Harper Lee in its depiction of rural hardship, small-town prejudice and lion-hearted courage. In a tremendously assured debut, Khomotso Manyaka stars as a village schoolgirl who fights to keep her family afloat following the death of her baby sister. Her stepfather is a drunk who spends the family's money on prostitutes, and her mother's health is deteriorating, but no one wants to put two and two together: the village is ruled so forcibly by rumour and superstition that its residents would rather waste away in private than go to hospital for an HIV/Aids test. It's a powerful, handsomely shot drama, but it feels as if the film-makers are listing a continent's problems rather than telling an individual's story.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees what Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington got up to Last Night

Also Showing: 29/05/2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules (100 mins, U)

For what it's worth, this is a marked improvement on last year's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which had such an unsympathetic hero it should have been called "Diary of an Obnoxious Brat". In the sequel, the Walter Mitty-ish narrator (Zachary Gordon, pictured) gets to be genuinely wimpy rather than cruel and self-centred, and there are enough knowing jokes about family life to keep accompanying grown-ups amused. If someone decides to make a third Wimpy Kid film, though, it would be nice if this time it had a plot, and not just a series of unrelated episodes glued together.

Angels of Evil (128 mins, 15)

Like 2009's Mesrine films, Angels Of Evil is a Seventies-set biopic of a European bank robber, Italy's Renato Vallanzasca (Kim Rossi Stuart). It's a brisk catalogue of shoot-outs and car chases, big sideburns and wide lapels, but it never pauses to establish why we should care about such an unstable thug, who has a habit of botching heists and shooting civilians. He's more evil than angelic.

Apocalypse Now (153 mins, 15)

Another opportunity to see Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam epic on the big screen, and marvel at a golden age when war films had real helicopters and real crowds in them, not just CGI replicas.