(This review was originally published on May 27, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
In his follow-up effort to the highest grossing R-rated comedy in American history, director Todd Phillips proves that it is somehow possible to be lazy and overzealous at the same time. “The Hangover”, which grossed over $467 million worldwide in 2009, succeeded almost as much on a critical level as it did at the box office, claiming its place as one of the decades funniest films. Phillips also co-wrote this time, along with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong.
The structure of the sequel has been virtually traced from the original script, swapping out some of the thematic elements and changing the location from Las Vegas to Thailand. The fundamental similarities to its predecessor are not as disheartening as the shoddy material built on its once solid foundation, with creative efforts funneled into out doing the original by any means necessary. This comes at the expense of the characters who once exhibited some level of humanity, now just mean-spirited and devious.
As the film opens, we are reintroduced to Phil, Stu and Alan in the same scenario as before, only reset atop a tall building somewhere. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is making a phone call to report a crisis, apparently even more extreme than last time. Later we find out that they’ve managed to lose Stu’s future brother-in-law in Bangkok. Rewind a week and we learn that Stu (Ed Helms)is getting married in Thailand, and that the extent of the bachelor party will be a brunch at IHOP before they leave. Phil is outraged at the thought of foregoing a celebration. Doug (Justin Bartha), informs them that Alan (Zach Galifianakis), his social wrecking ball of a brother-in-law, is hurt that he hasn’t been invited to the wedding. Alan passive-aggressively finagles his way into the plans, justifying the possibility of these guys ever finding themselves in this situation again.
Going through the motions, the group arrives in Thailand for the pre wedding festivities. Stu’s future father-in-law is not impressed with him, emasculating him during the toast, followed by an awkward but predictable speech from Alan that would have been funnier if Galifianakis’ trademark character hadn’t already been so overused in his last few films (think “Due Date”). Afterward, Stu reluctantly agrees to have one beer on the beach with the guys at the encouragement of his fiancé. It’s not long before the group is peeling themselves off the floor of a Bangkok hotel room.
If not for the familiar actors this might just seem like a ripoff of “The Hangover” by way of Peter Berg, “Very Bad Things” style. The parallels are obvious, but the variations prove ugly, even depressing at times, as if trying to win the respect of the audience by testing their fortitude. It’s like watching the version they would have released in the bizarro world, contrived and pointless. Alan, once socially inept but still sensitive and good-hearted now seems to exhibit the warning signs of a serial killer, fluctuating between excessive contempt and intense staring. The bumbling, vulnerable Stu is now angry and resentful as he screams incessantly and succumbs to the ‘demon’ that he claims to have inside him. Phil lacks any of the redeeming qualities that made us like him in the first film leaving us with an unpleasant, self-serving jerk. Even the hotel room, unlike the post party blowout wreckage that was so funny in Vegas, is essentially a crack den.
There are some funny moments, but they are lost in the monotony. Instead of taking a creative direction, maybe giving Doug (Bartha) a little more screen time with the group(since he was the one they misplaced in Las Vegas) they revert back to every possible comparison, reference and unnecessary character that can be re-inserted into the script. Ken Jeong reprises his role as Mr. Chow, the flamboyant kingpin antagonist that has absolutely no business here other than to exacerbate the contrived feeling of the story. Throw in a severed finger, a drug overdose, a monkey(which I won’t elaborate on because of one very unnecessary turn of events) and relations with a transvestite prostitute, and you’re halfway there. When the initial cause of the whole mess is finally revealed, you’ll neither be surprised nor care.
“The Hangover Part 2” rests on the assumption that substituting its more shocking moments for the components of the original film will be a guaranteed success, and that is where the writers are mistaken. By the same token, Phillips is so concerned with presenting something more outrageous that he forgot about the glue that held the first one together. No doubt this will clean up at the box office, and perhaps that explains his complacency.