If you're going to joke about self-destructive men, why not swing for the fences?
Mel Gibson is currently on the shit list of just about everyone but Jodie Foster. From all available evidence, he's a homophobe (see: the effeminate prince in Braveheart, an infamous 1991 interview); an anti-Semite (see: The Passion of the Christ, an infamous 2006 DUI stop); a racist (see: infamous 2010 calls to his ex, Oksana Grigorieva); and a misogynist (ditto). And I'm really sad that he got cut from The Hangover Part II.
In case you've forgotten, 2009's The Hangover concerned three guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis) who roofie themselves in Vegas, lose a fourth guy, and hang out with a baby, a tiger, and heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. The central joke of the movie, of course, was about three "ordinary" guys who finally get to live on the edge, doing all the things society (and, more specifically, women) won't normally let them do. The roofies allow the characters to unleash their collective Male Id, a force of unbridled anarchy and insatiable sexual desire, and the experience is liberating.
Now, two years later, most of the Hangover cast is back for what looks like a scene-by-scene remake of the first movie. To take Tyson's place in the surprise-cameo role, the filmmakers invited Mel Gibson — and then disinvited him after protests from both the public and the movie's own cast. The casting of a real bad boy like Gibson didn't fly with the faux bad boys of The Hangover Part II (particularly Galifianakis, according to rumors). In a 2010 interview posted by TMZ, franchise director Todd Phillips said, "I thought Mel would have been great in the movie… but I realize filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and this decision ultimately did not have the full support of my entire cast and crew."
One cast member who did support Gibson's casting was convicted rapist, former drug user, notorious pigeon enthusiast, and all-around controversy magnet (wait for it) Iron Mike Tyson. In an interview with The New York Post, the fighter-turned-actor said, "I'm not going to ever in my life point my finger at anyone. I don't live in a glass house. None of us do. I work with anybody, as long as they're respectful… We all have that guy — a Mel Gibson — in us."
That, of course, is the entire premise of the Hangover franchise.
Now, while I can understand not wanting to work with someone as seemingly loathsome as Gibson, it does seem hypocritical to playfully celebrate the bad behavior of one troubled misogynist while condemning that of another, all in service of a massively successful franchise about bad behavior (while quietly writing out your one notable female star, Heather Graham, to boot).
And, yes, I know The Hangover Part II is presented as nothing more than a fun, escapist comedy. But, according to Roger Ebert, it also pushes the "bad boy" envelope even further this time, "like a challenge to the audience's capacity for raunchiness. It gets laughs, but some of them are in disbelief. As if making sure no one was not offended, it has a montage of still photos over the closing titles that include one cruel shot that director Todd Phillips should never, ever have used… a desecration of one of the two most famous photos to come out of the Vietnam War."
I wonder whether Galifianakis protested to Phillips about that one too. Is a parody of the Saigon execution photo actually less offensive than Mel Gibson's mere presence? Probably not, but maybe for The Hangover Part II, Gibson's particular version of "the unleashed Male Id" was just a little too close to home.
It's too bad, because the specter of Mel Gibson might actually have made The Hangover Part II a more cutting look at men behaving badly than the mechanical retread it appears to be. Whenever a movie succeeds, Hollywood's instinct is usually to repeat it verbatim, only bigger, louder and dumber. And I'll probably rent The Hangover Part II eventually, since I like most of the people involved with it. But I definitely won't be seeing it on the big screen. Why? Because I've already seen the light-hearted story of three friends accidentally staring into the abyss. So if there has to be a darker, crazier sequel, why not own it with a deeper dive into what it truly means to be "bad" — featuring Gibson as the scary personification of the abyss staring back?