Did you ever hear the one about the three guys who wake up in a hotel room with no memory of how they got there or what they did the night before? You have? Well, you’re going to hear it again, but don’t worry, it’ll still be kind of funny. The good news is that if you liked The Hangover, then you will like The Hangover, Part II. The bad news is that you’ll like it just a little bit less. The sequel is incredibly similar to the original film, to its detriment, but it still manages quite a few laughs.
It’s a couple of years after the events of the first film, and nebbishy dentist Stu (Ed Helms) is about to get married to a beautiful Thai girl named Lauren (Jamie Chung). I guess things didn’t work out so well with Heather Graham. The wedding is going to be in Thailand, largely in a gesture to Lauren’s father (Nirut Sirichanya), who hates Stu and doesn’t want him to marry his daughter.
The whole gang is there for the wedding, including brash, jerky Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha), the guy who went missing during the first film. When emotionally stunted, borderline psychotic Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Doug’s brother-in-law, hears about the wedding, and how the gang will all be together without him, he is devastated. Despite hating Alan pretty thoroughly, Stu gives in and invites him.
Stu has learned a few lessons from his earlier ordeal, though. He puts a napkin on top of his drinks, so he can’t be roofied, and instead of a wild bachelor party, he takes his friends out for a “bachelor brunch” at IHOP. However, two nights before the wedding, the guys go down to the beach, Teddy in tow, for “just one beer.”
When they wake up, they’re in the scuzziest hotel room in Bangkok. They discover that Alan’s head is shaved, Stu has a Mike Tyson-style face tattoo and there’s a severed finger (presumably Teddy’s) floating in a bowl of water, but the rest of him is nowhere to be found. They have to find him before they can return to the resort for the wedding.
Director Todd Phillips brings a better visual eye to the film than most comedy directors, in particular shooting a car chase that looks a lot better than expected. He also does a good job of making Bangkok seem like the hot, skeezy, overcrowded, dangerous place that it is (apologies to anyone from Bangkok), like you could catch hepatitis C from virtually anything you see. The city seems credibly miserable and foreign, and the characters seem legitimately horrified as they discover what happened. As a result there is more of a sense of danger here than there was in the first film.
However, that sense of danger is undercut somewhat by how familiar everything in the film seems. The characters may not remember what happened to them, but we sure do. It’s the same stuff that happened in the first movie. The film’s structure, and many of the jokes, are lifted outright from the first movie.
The guys lose someone again—Teddy this time, instead of Doug. Stu gets disfigured again, getting the face tattoo instead of losing a tooth. And there’s a chain-smoking monkey around to serve as the rough equivalent of the baby from the first film. There is even another song from Helms. Once or twice, this repetition of the first film’s structure pays off in a surprise when the story goes somewhere unexpected, but most of the time, the movie goes exactly where you think it will, and instead results in a kind of fatigue. One thing that does not foster good comedy is familiarity.
I’ve heard it joked about elsewhere that the screenwriters just did a find-and-replace job, taking the original script and substituting “Bangkok” for “Las Vegas,” and in the spirit of the movie, I’ll go ahead and repeat the joke here.
What makes this repetition even more puzzling is the fact that the first movie worked largely because of its structure as a mystery, with the characters piecing together what they had done the night before. Here, when those events turn out to be pretty much the same things they did last time, it takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Still, quite a lot of the movie’s jokes do land, including some outrageous ones about the way Alan sees the world, and Stu’s evident penchant for hookers of all sorts. The movie is funny enough that I can’t dismiss it outright, and Phillips and company charge through the film, maintaining a manic pace that keeps the film from falling too flat.
The cast is good, if not particularly surprising. Cooper is as smarmy as he was in the first film, and Galifianakis as insane, and the filmmakers deserve credit for not relying on their breakout characters too much. But the film mostly belongs to Helms. He is the only one who gets any sort of character arc, fearing the “demon” inside him that comes out when he’s drunk, although the recent film Cedar Rapids was a better showcase for his milquetoast talents.
The movie feels like it’s punishing the characters more for their bad behavior this time around, but it still ends up playing it safe. The fact that the characters here are kind of jerks when they’re sober, and outright sociopaths when they’re drunk, means that there is some interesting potential here for going really dark with the subject matter, but while it was still fairly funny, The Hangover, Part II mostly kept things annoyingly predictable and familiar. Perhaps in the inevitable Hangover III we can get some real casualties.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.