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Published: 5/27/2011

COMMENTARY

Comedy sequels just aren't funny

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

There was no Mona Lisa's Sister. And if the Beatles ever released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Part 2" I'm not aware of it.

So why do we need The Hangover Part 2?

The answer is easy, right? Hollywood wants money. Your money. And the studio heads know you're willing to pay to see characters we know and love again and again on the big screen. Sequels are comfortable blankets. They're familiar, cozy, and we just can't resist them. And that's why we are to blame -- not Hollywood -- for the Part 2s and Part 3s at the end of movie titles.

If we, the movie-going public, were to boycott the sequels, guess what? These movies would go away as quickly as you can say Steve Guttenberg. Say what you want about film studios, but in Hollywood, as with most of the business world, "it's money that matters," to quote Randy Newman.

Frankly, I'm not even sure sequels should go away entirely.

There are those franchises that deserve opportunities to serve up continuations. Comic-book movies, for instance. Typically, I want further installments in a superhero's life. Spider-Man merited Spider-Man 2, which was better and darker than the first. Batman Begins was an effective relaunch of the Batman franchise, but its sequel, The Dark Knight, took the series -- and superhero films in general -- to another level of possibilities. My major exception to the continuing sagas of superheroes are those franchises that struggled to begin with. It only gets worse from there as we've seen in The Incredible Hulk and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Then there are those rare sequels, such as The Dark Knight, that equal if not better their predecessors. Godfather 2. Aliens. The Empire Strikes Back. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Dawn of the Dead. The Bourne Ultimatum. X2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Still, it's a list so small it doesn't even equal the number of movies in the Friday the 13th series -- 12 and counting.

And for every Godfather 2, I can give you Teen Wolf Too. And Conan the Destroyer. And multiple Porky's, Look Who's Talking, and Jaws sequels.

And as much as I loathed Conan the Destroyer and laughed at Jaws the Revenge ("This time it's personal" was the film's tagline. Seriously.), I can at least understand why these films were made. Drama can be duplicated. Scares can be duplicated. But comedy cannot. Which is why I'm even less empathetic toward the failures of sequels than comedy films.

In the summer of 2009 The Hangover surprised audiences with its cleverness and originality on its way to raking in more than $275 million domestically. It was raunchy, yes, but it was smart. The studio, blinded by dollar signs, wasn't smart enough to see that a sequel never could duplicate the success of the first film. (It doesn't. Read my review of the one-star film here.) If the best thing The Hangover had going for it was its originality, then how can a sequel expect to be better? The answer, according to the filmmakers, is to near-exactly duplicate everything about the first film. Accept, of course, for the freshness of it all. Once you've heard a joke, do you ever find it as funny the second time? Or third?

I'll give you Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. I'll even spot you The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. That's two out of hundreds. Clearly, these two films and a handful of others are the rare exceptions to the Police Academy rule of comedy sequels. That's why a quick scan of the remaining films this year shows there's only one other comedy sequel, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, in the pipe.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on his blog, toledoblade.com/cultureshock, or on Twitter, @bladepopculture.



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