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The Hangover Part II: The boys are back, Oscar-winning In A Better World opens here

by Mark Burger

“I can’t believe this is happening again!” This sentiment is uttered a number of times throughout The Hangover Part II by a number of characters — sometimes with unprintable accompaniment — yet it’s true. It’s happening again. They’d better believe it, and so had audiences.

The Hangover, released two summers ago, wasn’t just a surprise hit — it wound up being the highest-grossing R-rated comedy in Hollywood history. In that burg, that means only one thing: Sequel.

The pleasant surprise is that The Hangover Part II fully retains the high-spirited, lowbrow energy of the first film. This is hardly a cinematic concept that requires much nuance, but it does require a consistency — and that’s where director Todd Phillips and fellow screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scott Armstrong succeed in making this Hangover as much fun as the first.

Rare is the sequel that equals, much less surpasses. The Hangover Part II is one of those select few.

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifiankis reprise their roles, and their easy rapport is a key element to the film’s success. As foolhardy and asinine as their onscreen behavior becomes — and rest assured, it’s enormous — they remain likable throughout, primarily because they’re the ones being humiliated, harassed and even disfigured, and much of the time it’s their own fault. There’s an Everyman quality to them, even if it reflects the worst of Everyman.

The setting’s different but the set-up’s the same: This time it’s Stu (Helms) who’s getting married. His betrothed is Lauren (Jamie Chung) and the ceremony is to be held in Thailand. But before a single vow can be exchanged, the boys get bombed in Bangkok and wake up missing Lauren’s younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee, the real-life son of Jet Li).

Justin Bartha, the missing groom of the first film, tries to keep the lid on this unfortunate development back at the wedding resort, which means he’s on the sidelines throughout. Ken Jeong (born and raised in Greensboro, folks!) is back as the loony Mr. Chow, and the supporting cast includes Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Giamatti and a mischievous monkey with his own agenda. Director Phillips makes excellent use of the Thai locations, with Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis exemplifying varying degrees of the “ugly American,” spreading chaos wherever they go.

Part of the film is seeing how far the comedy can go, and it’s undoubtedly a positive distinction for the filmmakers that The Hangover Part II doesn’t so much push the envelope as shred it. The raunch factor is off the scale — in dialogue, in situations and in visuals. That pretty much covers all the bases, doesn’t it?

Opening this Friday, Susanne Bier’s In a Better World surprised many when it copped the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, besting the heavily favored Biutiful. Yet this is a worthy, well-acted meditation on the consequences of violence and how it impacts all ages.

Set mostly in modern-day Denmark, with brief emphasis on the ongoing cultural clash between Danes and Swedes, the film follows two schoolboys who bond after contending with a class bully. Markus Rygaard plays the shy Elias and William Johnk Nielsen plays Christian. Elias is dealing with the break-up of the marriage of his parents (Mikael Persbrandt and Trine Dyrholm) while Christian is being raised by his widowed father (Ulrich Thomsen) after the death of his mother.

The story occasionally becomes heavyhanded and the pacing slightly draggy, but the performances are terrific. Youngsters Rygaard and Nielsen effortlessly form an onscreen bond, with Nielsen especially effective as the coldly methodical Christian. Among the grown-ups, Persbrandt stands out as the missionary doctor whose life-long aversion to violence and retribution is put to the test, unaware that his own son is wrestling with a similar moral dilemma. (In English and Danish with English subtitles)

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