For anyone considering seeing The Hangover Part II please know this: If you have seen and enjoyed the often-hilarious Golden Globe winning original, you should know exactly what to expect from the sequel. The films are almost identical; so much so that you could even claim Part II is a straight up re-make, only now set in Bangkok instead of Vegas. Co-writer and director Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Due Date) tries to once again utilise the features that worked so successfully the first time around, making a series of substitutions to key elements in an attempt to provide a twist on the premise. This time, to name just a few, instead of finding a baby in their hotel room they discover a very intelligent chain-smoking monkey, instead of losing their friend Doug, they lose Teddy (the younger brother of Stu's fiance) and instead of Stu losing a tooth, he gains a facial tattoo. Some of these changes are clever and appropriate, while others are not. But you can be assured, that things get amped up amidst the chaos of sweaty, seedy downtown Bangkok.
The film opens with the disheveled protagonists; Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakas) at the point where they have all but given up hope. Having found themselves once again in an embarrassing and inexplicable situation, Phil decides to call the worried wedding guests. "We fucked up again," he sighs. You sure did. The film then jumps back to a period one week earlier. Stu is about to marry his fiance Lauren (Jamie Chung) in Thailand and he has invited Phil, Doug (Justin Bartha) and Alan to the wedding. After the regrettable affairs in Vegas a few years earlier, Stu wants nothing more for his bachelor party than a quiet brunch with his closest friends, much to Phil's displeasure. The 'Wolf pack' fly to Thailand, where Stu meets Lauren's mother and father for the first time, and the guys are introduced to Lauren's brother Teddy (Mason Lee, son of Ang Lee). Following dinner and a near-disastrous toast from Alan, the group (adopting Teddy) sit around a bonfire and have a drink or two in honour of Stu. The next thing they know they are waking up in a musty hotel room in Bangkok, with no memory of their overnight escapades.
With the wedding scheduled for the following day, and with a missing Teddy also missing a finger, they must once again piece together the disastrous events of the night before and locate their missing comrade. In addition to finding a monkey, they band together with Chow (Ken Jeong, returning from the first film). Having called Chow when they had developed a sense for adventure, he had picked them up from the resort in his speedboat and taken them into Bangkok. Their investigation first takes them to a hospital in search for Teddy, and then later to a monastery and a seedy strip club. They cross paths with a tattoo artist, a monk who takes his vow-of-silence very seriously, a nightclub owner involved in arms dealings, a gang of drug dealers and a ruthless businessman (portrayed by a very over-the-top Paul Giamatti). In quite predictable fashion, they suffer a series of humiliations and become mentally and physically spent, before connecting the scattered dots together at the last minute.
The location is so different, so much more foreign and volatile, that the film has an edgy feel. You actually feel a little scared for the characters at times. While the structure remains identical, the events in Part II are darker and more outrageous, though the disjointed plausibility and poorer handling this time around do not translate into as many laughs. The jokes and one-liners that made the original so much fun, and actually separated it from the run-of-the-mill gross-out comedy, do not work as well here, and several of the repercussions, notably a fully naked transvestite and an animal shooting, are just cringe-worthy. The individual performances, though good, each draw less laughs, relying on the situations themselves to create amusing reactions of befuddlement from the cast. Zach Galifianakas has his moments again, but the idiosyncrasies of his character started to border on the irritative.
Much like in the recent addition to the Pirates franchise, Part II is less effective simply because it is a sequel. It does not feel fresh and new, and lacks the 'surprise hit' qualities of The Hangover. This welcomed originality is replaced by some misguided and unnecessary attempts to replicate the magic. This is not to say that the film isn't entertaining, because it is. I'm close to forgiving Phillips' decision to identically replicate the structure because I think it is done in such a self-aware and unapologetic way. These guys knew exactly what they were doing, and Hollywood sequels are funded to ensure that 'more of the same' hits screens. Shooting the film on location, you really get the sense of mischief a group of drunk guys could get up to. At that moment when they wake up, look about groggily and exclaim, "Where are we?" you find yourself sucked in and compelled to see it through.
The film did struggle to keep me engaged in the latter third and did border on becoming overlong. Perhaps recognising that this might be a problem, the ending seemed very rushed. While once again it is a race against the clock to make it back for the wedding, it lacks the urgency and suspense of the first film, and their inconsideration for the family and destructive arrival, let alone the tattoo and the missing finger, are all brushed aside. To make this happen the film uses a number of convenient plot devices, which I found hard to forgive. The final scenes are horrifying, both in a bad way (Mike Tyson singing again) and in a good way (the discovery of the photos). I still don't think there is anything in the first film I laughed at more than the credit photos. I'll stand by that again here. Hilarious. I expect Part II won't disappoint die-hard fans of the original, but amidst several awful moments, there are just enough hilarious reciprocating ones this time around to still give it a recommendation.
My Rating: 3 Stars (C)