NOTE: The following article contains significant plot spoilers for The Hangover and The Hangover: Part II.
Part two of "About Critics" will (probably) continue next week as something slightly more relevant requires attention first.
I'd be lying if I said that I'm surprised that my opinion of The Hangover: Part II has turned out to be somewhat controversial, and that one of the things people are taking issue with is my contention that the film lapses into an ugly (and prolonged) streak of homophobic/transphobic unpleasantness in playing out a joke involving a transsexual prostitute.
To be frank, I labored over whether or not to specifically mention the scene in the review, as the tone and running time of Escape to the Movies isn't really conducive to dissecting individual scenes (and no, smarty-pantses, cutting out Mr. Frog and Mr. Rabbit would not have provided the necessary time) and/or the mechanics of joke-telling and physical comedy. But, ultimately, I felt it was important to highlight the outward-reaching ugliness of the sequel's approach to its comedy as one of the reasons it didn't work and you can't very well do that without citing the most obvious example. And if it did seem like further fleshing out of the point was needed, well, that's what Intermission is for.
So let's get into this.
First things first, nothing about Hangover 2 can be understood outside the context of also understanding Hangover 1 - the sequel's plot and structure are a blatant repurposing of the original, with nearly every joke and scenario being either a one-upping or a subversion of a moment from the original. Likewise, Hangover 1 itself cannot be properly understood without also understanding Las Vegas, Nevada - the city of its setting.
Vegas, both as a city and an institution, holds a unique place in the American psyche. As one of the few cities with wide-scale legalized gambling, located in a state where prostitution is mostly legal (though heavily regulated), its reputation is less that of a vacation spot than of a neutral zone for social mores. And while its public face has been reworked into more of a family destination in recent years, everyone still knows the score.
The enduring perception is that Vegas is a place where what would be light criminality anywhere else can be engaged in casually - so long as you can afford it. The state's own tourism industry openly joins in this wink-wink marketing with the slogan "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," repeated in gently leering ads aimed not at the openly debauched but rather at mid-upscale (mostly male) professionals. "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," then, is understood to actually mean that otherwise respectable upper-middle-class men (yes, the ads also feature women, but the over-arching tone is expressly masculine) can temporarily suspend their adherence to the various social contracts without worry of any consequences following them home.