The Hangover gang’s all back for another round of waking up and having no idea how bad things got the night before.For The Hangover Part II, the challenge – as a comedy – is to find a compelling narrative to return to a similar well. Most comic sequels end up redressing the original premise in one way or another to do it again, here the invention is the new location. Can it match up to the original?

The Players

The Plot

Stu (Helms) is getting married to Lauren (Jamie Chung) in Thailand with her humorless father and young but super-smart brother Teddy (Mason Lee) in attendance. Stu wants his old friends Phil and Doug (Cooper, Bartha respectively), and is forced to drag along Alan (Galifianakis). After the wedding rehearsal, the boys end up on the beach promising to have only one beer. The next morning they’re in a hotel they’ve never been to before with no power, a monkey, a severed finger, Mr. Chow (Jeong), and no clue where Teddy is. They then have to retrace their steps to find the young boy, but as – they’re warned repeatedly – “Bangkok has him now.”

The Good

  • Todd Phillips actually directs his comedies: Though Bridesmaids is a much better film in every way – like many of its ilk – the filmmaking in that film has little panache. In fact, most of the post-Judd Apatow comic directors have embraced Judd’s point-and-shoot approach. Phillips directs the movie with an eye toward cinema, and when there are set pieces involving a car chase, and a drug dealing monkey it feels put together and interesting unlike some of the more “is this intentionally or unintentionally bad” action sequences in some other more recent comedies.
  • It’s Transgressive: Though the first film featured Vegas, it never got that seedy. Here the film goes into darker places than the original – hopefully to raise the stakes – which means that the jokes go in some terrible places. Though the ending glosses over some of that, the film isn’t afraid to shoot its heroes, and have them engage in some behavior that may make the audience squirm. This leads to the biggest laughs in the film.

The Bad

  • It’s the Same Movie: Though the set up was bound to be similar, their adventures are pretty much the same (you can substitute Thai ladyboys for Heather Graham, etc), and the film ends with a photo montage after a cameo by a performer from the first film – who shows up and is painfully not funny. Because the structure is almost exactly the same, it doesn’t have the surprise of the first film, and so they’re way less excitement to how it’s all going to wrap up. Zach Galifianakis no longer gets to sneak up and surprise you this time, here you get to watch him riff on the character – which still has moments but isn’t as winning. We’ve seen him do this before. The moments where the film does do different jokes or beats are where the film succeeds, but as evinced from the trailer, they hit so many of the same beats that if you have a familiarity with the first film, you’re bound to see this as diminishing returns.
  • The First Film Worked Because it was Unlike Other Comedies: What made The Hangover pop in 2009 was partly because cinema was awash in a wave of Judd Apatow and company films that had become the dominate form. The problem with this film is that it’s now familiar, especially between the first film and Due Date. Phillips has a style and it works, but the more he does it the less the returns – he’s getting as over-exposed as Apatow.
  • The Transgression: The only thing the film has going for it is that it goes to some darker places, but in most ways it backs off from them. From the sex, to how the boys blacked out, to the severed finger, to someone getting shot, there seem to be consequences to their actions that eventually disappear. In that way the film is both more and less dangerous than it should be. The idea of dropping characters off in a place where they don’t speak the language is great… too bad they never have to deal with anyone who doesn’t speak English.

Overall

The Hangover Part II functions more as a remake than sequel – there was really no story to tell, and it would be hard to justify getting these characters back together again, regardless. But as they couldn’t find a more interesting angle than “let’s just do the second one in Bangkok” you get exactly what you’d expect, for better or ill. To that end, it’s not as perfunctory as the recent Pirates sequel, but that’s rather faint praise. That the film is going to make at least $200 Million dollars domestically means that the sequel was a smart move on Warner Brothers part. At the same time, the film may end up being more of a Pyrrhic victory if it annoys audiences and spoils the goodwill of the first one. If it does do over $200, then a third one will surely be in order, and likely it’ll be the sort of film where everyone says they learned from the mistakes they made on the second one.

Rating: 4/10

The Hangover Part II opens in Theaters May 26

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