The Badass Interview: THE HANGOVER PART II Writer Craig Mazin On Comedy Sequels, Formula And Darknes
Craig Mazin is one of the co-writers of The Hangover Part II, working alongside director Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong to bring the Wolf Pack to Thailand. You know some of Craig’s other films - he wrote for Scary Movies 3 and 4, and he directed Superhero Movie.
Craig has a reputation as a no bullshit guy, so that was how I wanted to approach this interview, and I’m glad I did. I ran some of the most common criticisms of the film by him - including the structure, which is identical to the first film, and the lack of women - and he gave what I think are some solid, honest answers. And he also has a pretty brilliant pitch for how The Hangover Part III must end.
With this film you guys stuck very close to the structure of the first movie. As writers was this a situation where you were trying to find ways to play with the structure or were you happy to use the structure to your advantage?
The latter. It was the big question to figure out early on, and it was an intentional thing to stick to the formula of the first one. The theory being there’s a procedural aspect to the first movie, it was an investigation and a very structured investigation of the sort you might see on Law & Order. Law & Order has the same plot every single episode. It felt like the fun in The Hangover wasn’t in the plotting it was watching these guys who were so unequipped go through an investigation - where they’re the perpetrators! That’s the fun part. So we were very intentional about using the same formula, and we weren’t the first ones to do that - find me a James Bond movie that doesn’t use the James Bond formula. And yeah, it was a challenge because we had to find a way to explore these characters in a new sense and to escalate things to a new level.
Comedy sequels are tough - they rarely work. Looking at the history of comedy it’s hard to find sequels that match up to the original. Was there the question of why even do this, can you make it as good as the original?
Of course. We were pretty aware of the history of comedy sequels. It’s a tough one.
Nobody says Caddyshack 2 is their favorite movie.
Exactly. Comedy, unlike drama, demands surprise. You can’t quietly and thoughtfully enjoy a comedy. I mean, there are some like that but not this sort of big, crowd pleasing comedy. You’ve eliminated the crucial element of ‘I’ve never seen this before’ because people have seen it before. But we’ve watched this with audiences - and real audiences, not press audiences or whatever - and they love it and they love it because they’re back with something that’s comforting for them - the structure and those guys - and they want to see where it does change, and where it goes further. They like the characters. They want to see those guys going through it again. It’s what they want to see. It was our suspicion that that’s what they wanted to see. This is a crowd pleasing movie. It’s meant to be seen in a theater, it’s not meant to be watched alone in your house. I saw The Hangover in a theater and I laughed my ass off. I will still enjoy it every time it’s on TV, but I won’t laugh out loud - I need to be in that big room. It’s a communal experience. To that end I think we achieved our goal in a big way. I think this is the comedy sequel that works.
This film gets a little bit darker. They wake up with a severed finger in an ice bucket. Was there a discussion as to how dark it could go? When the original makes a lot of money does that give you more room to go darker, or did you not want to go too far?
Good question. I think all of that’s true. The success of the first movie gave Todd a pretty safe zone in which to work. It was going to be hard for anybody to tell him he didn’t know what he was doing with this movie. His instinct was to take it darker, to have something scary in that room, and that was really important. In my opinion where comedy sequels tend to go bad is that they get sillier and lighter. This went the other way, which I love. It got more dangerous, it got darker. It was important because we wanted to acknowledge that these guys had gone through this trauma before. If it’s going to happen again, if you’re going to wake up and not know what happened again, it better be worse. And this time it’s worse.
These guys aren’t just bad drunks; when they black out they become flat out sociopaths. You guys address this a little bit with the Ed Helms ‘I have a demon in me.’ In terms of balancing the characters and the comedy how bad can these guys be while blacked out but still allow us to be on their side?
I think short of killing an innocent person or committing rape on another person [laughs] (as opposed to having it committed on them), anything they want. The point is they’re fucked up, and as Mike Tyson says, people do stupid things when they’re fucked up. There’s something universal about getting fucked up in the human condition. Even animals will go and wander out and eat psychotropic vegetation to get fucked up. It’s like we have to do, we need to alter ourselves until we’re not in control anymore and the pure animal can come out. It’s not the The Hangover is a message movie, and the sequel isn’t either, but if there’s a message it’s that sometimes you have to let the demon out to fix what’s wrong in your sober life.
There’s something I like about Todd Phillips. There was a video interview that just hit the web with Todd and Dave Poland, and Todd’s tough. Todd’s tough on Howard Stern. What’s his relationship with you guys like?
I can only speak about my relationship with him. That interview was great and he was so excited about it; he emailed me and said ‘You gotta see me take this fucking guy apart.’ That interview was almost who he really is. He was still pulling his punches and being nicer in that interview, frankly. I just call it ‘being real’ to me, and that’s how I am too. We’ve always gotten along because we both operate on that level of being darkly confident and viewing the world as our enemy. I can tell you that for me and for Todd I spend more time laughing with him than I do with anyone. It’s so much fun, I love hanging out with him.
I loved it. I could watch that interview forever. The last line of that interview is the greatest last line ever.
It’s nice seeing someone being real. It’s boring doing press usually because people are so fake.
He uses the word boring a lot, actually. It’s the highest crime in the world, being boring. Not being outrageous or going too far. Boring is the worst thing you can be, and he’s not that.
In both Hangover movies these guys get punished. They get beaten, they get shot, they get tazed in the first one. Is there that feeling that you can treat these guys as punching bags? Are we supposed to feel bad when they get shot?
No, we are not supposed to feel bad. They are being punished for bad behavior and they deserve it. Women really loved the first movie. When we did testing on this movie - traditionally R-rated comedies will do well with men between 18 and 25 and some women under 25, but the one quadrant of the box you give up on is women over the age of 25 - but women love [this movie]. And I think the reason women love it because they love watching these guys get punished. They’ve done a bad thing. In a way it’s not their fault, but there’s a part of them that goes crazy and they have to go through hell to get through it.
Women are suspicious of this male ritual of the bachelor party, and are suspicious of what men do and say when they are not being watched by them. What I like about the way the movie portrays men, is that it is true. They’re portrayed honestly, and in the honest light of day we may be vulgar and we may be stupid and we may exhibit bad judgment, but we’re not bad. We’re trying to do the right thing. I like that.
You guys have even fewer female characters in this movie than in the first. There was Heather Graham in the middle of the first film, but you don’t have that in this movie. Was there ever talk of trying to include more women?
I’m not sure that’s true. Heather Graham is in the middle of the first one and the beautiful Kimmee is in the middle of this one. Maybe technically we have something to quibble over there…
I’m not sure you get to claim a ladyboy as a female character.
I think she counts as one. And then Jaime Chung did a wonderful job as the fiancee Lauren, and I think she has slightly more to do in this movie than Tracy had to do in this one. The biggest change is that the antagonist in the first one is a woman, it was a woman they had to get through. The villain in this one is his father-in-law, who is a really tough guy.
Obviously I’m splitting hairs here, talking about whether there’s one female character or two. It’s a movie about men. Todd Phillips has always made movies about men. Always. It’s not because he doesn’t love women - he does… quite a bit! But what interests him in terms of storytelling. I can’t ding him for that. Nobody is sitting there going ‘Why isn’t Tyler Perry making movies about white people?’ He wants to make movies about the African American experience. Todd makes movies about men. All of his movies are like this. Anybody holding his breath waiting for Todd Phillips to make a movie about women is going to die.
This looks like it’ll probably be a hit. I’m sure Warner Bros is already saving a spot on the schedule for The Hangover Part III. Have you guys talked about breaking the format and potentially doing something different for the third film?
I think that if we do a third one the first thing is that it’s going to have to be something Todd believes is a good idea but those guys - he really respects those guys, and the cast is as much a part of the creation of this movie as anybody else - it has to be something they’re on board with. I think that the third one… look, lightning can strike twice, but I don’t think it can strike three times. We’ve talked about another way to approach this thing where something else happens, that begins a final adventure. In the end, one way or another, these three guys need to figure out a way to stop experiencing disaster every time they’re together. When that happens it will end. I personally think there’s room for one more story, but just one more.
I feel like you guys have to kill off Doug.
Doug may be the only one who should survive. I think the third movie ends with Doug staring at a row of crosses in a graveyard. It’s everyone - his wife, his family is dead, everybody from the first movie is dead. Somebody shows up and tells him his dog is dead.