The inevitable sequel to the massively successful 2009 Golden Globe-winning comedy, “The Hangover” has arrived amid much speculation and excitement. The first film, budgeted for a modest $35 million, grossed $277.3 million domestically and $467.5 million worldwide, making it the biggest grossing comedy of all time. The film made A-list stars out of its lead acting trio of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis and was watched and re-watched and quoted and re-quoted by millions of devoted fans.
For “Part II”, director Todd Phillips has assumed additional responsibilities as a co-writer on the screenplay and has moved the film from Las Vegas to Thailand. With as much anticipation as any film has generated in recent memory, can Phillips and his fearless cast recreate the same hilarity and shock and awe humor which made the first film so memorable? Can they take the film in a new direction and retain its rather vulgar and inspired creativity? Are there more “OMG” moments that they can pull out from under their sleeves this time?
The short answer is a resounding “No.” No they can’t – but boy do they try…boy do they ever try.
With “The Hangover Part II”, we find Stu (Ed Helms) is one week away from marrying Lauren (Jamie Chung) and returning to Lauren’s home country, Thailand, for a lavish and once-in-a-lifetime wedding ceremony. Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) are heading there with Stu and all seems ready to go as scheduled. At the behest of Doug’s wife, Tracy (Sasha Barrese), Doug asks Stu to consider allowing Tracy’s brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), to join them. Stu is vehemently opposed to the idea and refuses to allow it.
Stu is a bit of a softie though and he ultimately agrees to join Phil and Doug and his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Teddy (Mason Lee), in a visit to see Alan who is reportedly heartbroken he is not included in the wedding party. Alan is as unhinged as ever and despite his taking strong issue with Teddy’s presence, Stu relents and Alan packs his bags for Thailand.
After a rehearsal dinner shows that Lauren’s father is not at all thrilled to be gaining Stu as his son-in-law, Phil wants to release the tension and have the guys get together for drinks on the beach. Stu initially opts to stay with his fiance for the night, but again gives in when Lauren and everyone encourages him to have one last drink with the guys. Joined by Teddy, beers are popped open and conversations transpire until…
Phil comes to in a ball of sweat, face down on a dirty floor in a rundown room… somewhere. Alan falls awake out of a bunk bed of cots sporting a freshly shaven head, and Stu is curled up in the fetal position in a bathtub – clad in a shirt, his underwear and sporting a bold and vivid new facial tattoo identical to one found on the face of Mike Tyson. Worse yet, there is no sign of Teddy or Doug, but Teddy’s class ring is located on a severed finger. And on top of that, there is a strange and misshaped lump of clothes and blankets in the middle of one room and a monkey sporting a Rolling Stones jacket cackling and bouncing around.
The question for the Wolfpack is a familiar one…what in the heck happened?
Success can be a helluva thing and for “The Hangover”, the pressure to make this work is palpable and real and noticeable in almost every frame. Content on revisiting virtually the same premise as the first film was a poor choice by director Todd Phillips and his screenwriting collaborators, Scott Armstrong and Craig Mazin. Everything that was fresh, unique, shocking, and memorable the first time around just is not this time and modifying the location of this film is simply not enough to make it fresh and/or different.
Be it Thailand or be it Las Vegas in the first film, there is a pending wedding, a bachelor party, a desperate desire to backtrack and figure out what happened the night before, and the reveal coming through cell phone pictures, emptying of pockets, and scattershot happenstance encounters with people the guys do not remember but who, in turn, remember them and so on and so on. Rather rapidly, “The Hangover Part II” feels and begins to look desperate and defensive, not proactive and fearless like its predecessor.
The first “Hangover” had that element of surprise and unpredictability that recycling does not bring back. When the crazed and manic Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) leaps out of the car naked and assaults the Wolfpack in the first film, we have no earthly idea what we are seeing and are just as shocked as Alan, Phil, and Stu are. When we find Mr. Chow this time, the rather stunning visual site gag which accompanied Chow’s famous assault scene last time is played to the lowest common denominator. Chow’s introduction in “Part II” speaks volumes as to how desperate and reaching Phillips and his team are in trying to top their first effort.
There are still some hilarious moments amidst all the retreaded site gags and uninspired attempts at humor. Zach Galifianakis still delivers brilliantly timed one-liners and quips throughout, some of which I imagine had to be ad-libbed to work so well, and the chemistry between Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis is still readily apparent. The addition of Mason Lee as Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Teddy, is a nice touch and could have been an avenue to explore if Lee didn’t disappear for virtually the entire middle of the picture.
Largely the most disappointing element of “The Hangover Part II” is that the film is so joyless and in certain moments rather mean-spirited. Subplots involving Mr. Chow, Teddy, fundamentalist monks, that precocious monkey who serves as a de facto fourth or fifth member of the Wolfpack, particular ladies of the evening, drug dealers, and crime bosses misfire more than they succeed. When Stu finds himself the victim of a drunken bait-and-switch for example, Phillips aims for an obvious visual cue to underscore the realization that Stu is coming to grips with. When this “Hangover” delivers its shocking “Gotcha!” moments this time around, the film is too similar to what we have already encountered and we see the moment coming from a mile away, whether we know exactly what is in store for us or not.
The first “Hangover” excelled because it found the perfect synergy of surprise, comedic timing, and engaging characters who were quotable and identifiable. Everything just clicked and perhaps we were all naive to want to see this Wolfpack go on the hunt again. Then again, maybe the bar was raised so high that this film could have never measured up, no matter what storyline Phillips and his team created. In that regard, I kind of feel bad that this movie may have had no shot of coming close to what was captured the first time. Devoid of true humor and mystery this time around, “The Hangover Part II” provides minimal excitement and nothing to place you on the edge of your seat.