It’d be easy to describe The Hangover Part Two as shamelessly cynical if it weren’t intermittently entertaining. Rather than expand on the original comedy blockbuster, director Todd Phillips recreates his exact formula in a new setting. I wonder whether Phillips actually thought Thailand would offer new surprises for Phil and the gang, as he frames physical gags without subtlety or thought. The best moments occur when the actors aren’t reacting to crazed antics, and actually have time to develops their roles. As with the original Hangover, we laugh precisely because logic and acting dictate how these degenerates behave. Too bad part two has more in common with a remake than a sequel.
Phil (Bradley Cooper) calls Traci and begins with fateful fateful words: “It happened again.” We already knows what “it” is. Along with Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Phil cannot rescue a lost comrade after crazy night. Now Stu is the one getting married, with a lush Thai resort replacing Las Vegas. After their night of debauchery, the Wolf Pack awakens in a shit-hole Bangkok hotel. They try to piece last night, and soon realize Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) is missing. Foreign soil is the least of their problems; Teddy is sixteen years old and Phil soon discovers the kid is missing a finger. Just like before, the guys recreate their night and slowly discover just how out of control it became.
Many scenes play out like the screenwriting equivalent of Mad Libs. Jokes and plot remain the same, and certain characters/props have a Thai equivalent. There’s an early scene in the first Hangover where the guys visit a hospital and chat with a doctor who is treating an older patient. This time around they visit a tattoo artist and who is inking a little boy; the artist’s jokes and attitude mirror the doctor’s. And instead of Alan’s inappropriate interactions with a baby, he plays with a monkey instead.
Such laziness would not be a problem if the comedy didn’t rely so heavily on surprise. We know how these guys will react to violence, so when situations bear a strong similarity to their previous bender, their fits of hysteria are blandly identical. Other set pieces, such as a visit to a strip club, lay their foundations so heavy-handedly the punchline is obvious minutes before the big reveal. The only newish scene is when Chow (Ken Jeong) takes the guys on a car chase, but it’s unimaginatively derivative of other action-comedies. But for all its disappointingly low ambition, the scenes essentially work, and more generous audiences will find something that will make them laugh.
No doubt The Hangover Part 2 will make oodles of cash, even if it probably won’t usurp the original as the most successful R-rated comedy. If the sequel turns out to be a modest success, I hope the box-office receipts are a teachable moment for Phillips. The key to his franchise’s continuing success are the performances and characters, who are well-developed and surprisingly likable. Phil is a great pig-headed degenerate, Stu is a dependable everyman, and Alan – to no one’s surprise – remains gloriously weird. The lead actors recapture the same nervy energy, and it’s satisfying to watch their allegiances shift as their bad day continues. Yet here is a movie where character-driven comedy is ancillary to shocking sight gags. Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis can hardly riff on their roles when monks beat them mercilessly or pig intestines fly past their heads.