FILM REVIEW: The Hangover Part II

24 May

BOTTOM LINE: A raunchy summer comedy set in Thailand that pales in comparison to the original.

The wolfpack is back, and they’ve learned from their Vegas adventures.

After storming the box office in 2009 with raunchy comedy The Hangover, director Todd Phillips has delivered The Hangover Part II, an adequate follow-up to the original that cautiously replicates the unapologetically improper humour and beloved characters that made Hangover a summer smash. Make no mistake, though — the sequel pales in comparison to the original. If Hangover was the iPod, Hangover 2 is the Zune: it replicates all the features, but can’t capture the novelty that made the former so revolutionary.

Hangover 2, set shortly after the first film, follows stick-in-the-mud Stu’s (Ed Helms) wedding to the sweet but boring Lauren (Jamie Chung). Stu asks best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) to join him in Thailand, where his nuptials will take place, and, after some prodding on Doug’s part, reluctantly agrees to invite Alan (Zach Galifianakis) along too. However, he’s determined to avoid their disastrous Las Vegas experience: instead of throwing a big bachelor party, he holds a small, subdued brunch at IHOP before they leave for Thailand. The others are upset about it, but Stu refuses to ruin his chances with Lauren, especially when her strict father (Nirut Sirichanya) already disapproves of him.

That all changes when they arrive in Thailand. Two nights before the wedding, Lauren convinces Stu to join his friends on the beach for a beer and bring her studious younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) along. No harm there, right? Not exactly. The next morning, Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in a broken-down motel in Bangkok with nothing but a chain-smoking monkey, Teddy’s severed finger, a Mike Tyson-inspired tattoo on Stu’s face, and a naked Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) to serve as clues as to what happened the night before. While Doug placates the family back at the resort, the wolfpack sets off across the city to piece together their memories of the night before and find Teddy before Stu’s wedding. Along the way, they encounter monks, trannies, and drug dealers galore — you know, the usual.

The main problem with Hangover 2 is that we know what’s going to happen. It takes the blueprint of the original Hangover and spits it back out with a few minor variations — but not enough to alter the formula that made the first film so popular. The first Hangover had the element of surprise, whereas the second merely fulfills expectations. We know Teddy is going to go missing the moment Stu agrees to let him tag along. We know they’re going to make it back to the wedding in the nick of time when Phil tells his wife they’ve “done it again.” We know we’re going to see explicit photos of their adventures during the end credits before the film event starts.

That’s not to say Hangover 2 isn’t funny, because it easily trumps the other comedies out there (with the exception of maybe the female Hangover, Bridesmaids). The jokes are just as lewd and shocking as they are in the first film. Make no mistake, there will be penises — a lot of them, and in varying degrees of detail. Still, even some of the laugh-out-loud moments feel strained, like the filmmakers had to pull them out of a joke inventory and forcibly insert them. By the time the third act rolls around you almost want the film to end already so the writers can be put out of their misery.

Galifianakis, the breakout star of Hangover, continues to charm audiences as the hapless Alan, while Jeong steals almost every scene he’s in with his maniacal laughter and dirty mouth. The background actors are less memorable, with Lee delivering an awkwardly stilted performance as the innocent Teddy.

There are a few welcome changes, namely the backdrop, which is considerably darker. The dirty, claustrophobic streets of Bangkok provide the perfect setting for the bewildered wolfpack as they search for answers. You feel the characters’ physical discomfort and disorientation, which effectively adds to the sense of urgency that moves the film along.

Hangover 2 is guaranteed to follow in the successful footsteps of its predecessor, but only because it offers no more, no less than what fans loved about the first. Still, considering the steep decline in quality that most franchises experience between sequels, it’s hard to fault any of Hangover filmmakers for sticking to a tried-and-true formula.

GRADE: B+

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