The influence of “The Hangover” looms like a toxic cloud over “Think Like a Man Too,” a raucous mess of a Vegas-set sequel that brings new meaning to the term “sloppy seconds.” Although funnier and mercifully shorter than its 2012 battle-of-the-sexes predecessor, this third collaboration between manic comedian Kevin Hart and director Tim Story (hot on the heels of their January hit “Ride Along”) is an exceedingly formulaic and ultimately exhausting thing to experience; with its mash-up of Sin City shenanigans and be-good-to-your-woman relationship advice, watching it is like attending a self-help seminar where the keynote speaker keeps trying to give you a lap dance. Still, that’s not a recipe likely to turn off target audiences for this Screen Gems release, which is on track to land in the vicinity of the first pic’s $91 million domestic haul.
Charting the romantic misadventures of four men and four women bent on wooing and outsmarting each other using the sexist stratagems laid out in Steve Harvey’s bestseller “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” the first film was effectively a feature-length advertisement for its source material, barely rescued from total banality by its attractive and appealingly grounded cast. As written by returning scribes Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, “Think Like a Man Too” represents something of an improvement, insofar as it has the good sense to largely ditch the book and keep the actors, while building loosely on the characters’ relational conflicts regarding sex, work, family and commitment.
The wedding of straightlaced mama’s boy Michael (Terrence J) and good-hearted single mom Candace (Regina Hall) is the occasion that brings this group of friends from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where Mya (Meagan Good) is miffed to discover that her b.f., Zeke (Romany Malco), seems to have slept with every woman on the Strip. Also along for the festivities are the slackerish Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) and the driven Kristen (Gabrielle Union), whose determination to get pregnant is starting to tax Jeremy’s sexual stamina; plus rising chef Dominic (Michael Ealy) and high-powered media executive Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), who once more find themselves struggling to reconcile their unique vocational paths.
Theoretically, any of these couples could have been the one to tie the knot, although the present arrangement makes dramatic sense, since it ensures the unwelcome involvement of Michael’s mother, Loretta (Jenifer Lewis). Even more of a raging Freudian nightmare here than she was in the original, Loretta quickly hijacks the wedding plans and does her utmost to ensure that nothing untoward (or fun, for that matter) takes place at either her son’s bachelor party or her future daughter-in-law’s bachelorette party, both of which are conveniently scheduled for the night before the wedding. Of course, with the best-man duties falling to that rambunctious idiot-clown Cedric (Hart), and with Candace and her bridesmaids inadvertently getting high on marijuana-laced chewing gum, a tame and tasteful evening is not exactly in the cards.
While the two gender factions will eventually collide (in a scene that suggests “Magic Mike” by way of an MMA cage match), the men and women are effectively isolated from each other for the better part of the movie, a decision that makes the climactic 20-minute stretch of teary-eyed reconciliations feel even more tedious, robotic and downright head-scratching than expected. Until that point, “Think Like a Man Too” does put on a lively and intermittently guffaw-worthy show, despite its gutless PG-13 rating and the simple fact that what happens in Vegas is more or less what always happens in Vegas. Unleashing their characters against a titillating backdrop of strip clubs and swimming pools, Merryman and Newman have at least written a few sharper, more consistent zingers this time out, and Story’s otherwise bland direction does at times rise to the manic occasion, peaking with an energetic, split-screen-heavy sequence in which the two booze-fueled parties turn Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” into their own surreally debauched musicvideo.
Setting an over-caffeinated rhythm for the farcical proceedings, as ever, is Hart. From the first shimmering glimpse of the Strip, the comic and his high-pitched, mile-a-minute vocal delivery are stamped all over every frame, whether he’s narrating the story in mostly unnecessary voiceover or dancing, “Risky Business”-style (plus argyle socks), in a $40,000-a-night Caesars Palace suite. Roughly one part endearing to four parts headache-inducing, Hart’s presence is thankfully counterbalanced by an otherwise agreeably mellow ensemble of actors who are never less than charismatic and gorgeous to look at, even when they’re being put through their utterly predictable paces. As in the first film, Ealy and Henson stand out as a pair who clearly deserve a full-length romantic comedy of their own, rather than being crammed into the same movie with three others.
There are welcome cast reinforcements in the form of Dennis Haysbert as Candace’s Uncle Eddie, an assignment he seems to have treated, charmingly, as an unusually amorous Allstate commercial; and Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids,” TV’s “Rules of Engagement”), socking over her role as the drab white girl who lets her hair down enough to become an honorary member of the sisterhood. Less successfully deployed are Adam Brody and NBC sitcom star David Walton as Michael’s fraternity brothers, wittily dismissed onscreen as alumni of “Abercrombie & Fitch Epsilon.”
Other entertainment personalities making drive-by cameos here include boxer Floyd Mayweather, dancer and reality TV star Coco and rapper Drake, while talkshow host Wendy Williams reprises her role as Cedric’s perpetually on-again, off-again spouse. The juxtaposition of Hart’s vocal antics and a soundtrack overloaded with pop/R&B/hip-hop tunes make for a nonstop cacophonous experience, unfortunately abetted by the very crummy, echo-prone sound projection at the press screening attended.