The stock dismissal “more of the same” has rarely been more accurately applied to a sequel than to “The Hangover Part II,” which ranks as little more than a faded copy of its predecessor superimposed on a more brightly colored background. One can understand director Todd Phillips’ initial reluctance to tinker with a formula that made the 2009 romp the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever, but the rote professionalism on display verges on cynicism, and despite some occasional sparks, this ranks as a considerable disappointment. Box office should be huge all the same.
No doubt, rebooting the original pic’s high-concept hijinks must have presented Phillips (as well as new screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) with considerable challenges in terms of keeping things fresh. But it nonetheless should have been possible to revive the basic plot structure without slavishly reprising its every beat. This “Hangover” is longer than the first by two minutes, but at times it feels as though the two could be projected side-by-side in perfect synchronicity, with the only changes to many scenes being the location, the wardrobe and the addition of the word “again” to the dialogue.
Missing this time is the Las Vegas location, Rachael Harris, Heather Graham and a substantial percentage of the twisted wit that made the first such an unexpected pleasure. Emphasis on the word “unexpected,” as the primary achievement of the first “Hangover” was its ability to keep topping itself with delightfully tasteless outrages. Relocation of the characters to ugly-American capital Bangkok would seem to indicate a raising of the stakes in that regard, but aside from a breathtakingly offensive half-second snapshot in the closing-credits montage, this one plays it relatively safe.
Again, best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) come together on the eve of a wedding — along with fourth wheel Alan (Zach Galifianakis) — though this time the groom-to-be is Stu, and the nuptials are set for a spectacular seaside resort in Thailand. The father (Nirut Sirichanya) of the bride (Jamie Chung) is hardly a fan of the milquetoast dentist, especially when he’s stacked up against his son Teddy (Mason Lee), a 16-year-old Stanford freshman and cello prodigy.
After a disastrous rehearsal-dinner speech, the four amigos, with Teddy in tow, head down to the beach to share a single beer, only to wake up sweaty and confused in a sleazy Bangkok hotel. Alan’s head is now shaved, Stu boasts a raw tribal tattoo on his face and Teddy has gone missing, save for his ring finger, preserved in ice on a bedstand table. (Doug is again absent from the morning after, though this time he’s safely back at the resort.)
From here, the film is consumed by a clock-beating mad dash to piece together the fragments of the unremembered evening and find the missing teenager. This journey takes them into the orbit of a local crime lord (Paul Giamatti), a drug-dealing monkey, effeminate gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, again), an American tattooist (Nick Cassavetes) and, of course, Mike Tyson (again). Some of these misadventures are quite funny, some flop with a thud, but few of them possess more than a shred of the anything-goes inventiveness that the film requires. One exception to this is the gang’s inevitable visit to a Bangkok brothel, which actually manages to subvert audience expectations while at the same time further diminishing the film’s already minimal female presence.
Helms and Cooper have no trouble reprising their roles, and as in the original, manage to subtly convey why such diametrically opposed personalities might be such close friends. Galifianakis looks a bit lost, however, as his socially maladjusted character seems to be progressively devolving from welcome X-factor into low-grade irritant.
Sirichanya, on the other hand, completely nails the film’s sharpest moment of cringe-worthy hilarity, delivering a monologue in which he laboriously attempts to compliment his future son-in-law by comparing him first to a developmentally disabled relative, then to a flavorless rice porridge.
Production design is of a particularly high quality, capturing the crowded, humid ambiance of the Bangkok streets as well as the smaller details — the Billy Joel posters hanging in Alan’s bedroom draw more laughs than many of the madcap setpieces. Editing and camerawork are solid, and one expertly executed car chase is a blast on its own merits.