It's hard to imagine a more half-hearted attempt at cashing in a second time than "The Hangover Part II."
Seriously, it feels like the script was pieced together with the help of Mad Libs, with only slightly different and raunchier details replacing those that helped the original "Hangover" from 2009 become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time (it made more than $467 million worldwide).
But so much of the allure of that first film was the novelty of the premise, the unpredictability of the adventures, and the sense that we, too, were wandering in a daze, helping solve the mystery of the debauched night before. Despite their throbbing heads and increasing sense of panic, these guys clearly had a blast, and they made us wish we could have joined them. That sequence where the motley group of friends wakes up in a fog and surveys the damage in a trashed Las Vegas hotel suite is a brilliant and efficient little piece of storytelling, full of clever details and meticulous production design.
Director Todd Phillips, who also co-wrote the script this time (along with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong), apparently thought so, too. That's just one of many gags from the first film that are repeated in "The Hangover Part II." Giving the people what they want is one thing. Making nearly the exact same movie a second time, but shifting the setting to Thailand, is just ... what, lazy? Arrogant? Maybe a combination of the two.
Instead of finding a baby in their hotel room, the guys find a chain-smoking, drug-running capuchin monkey. Instead of waking up with a missing tooth, Ed Helms' mild-mannered dentist character, Stu, wakes up with a facial tattoo. Instead of bursting into song at the piano to sum up how horrible the situation is, Stu bursts into song with an acoustic guitar. And instead of having sex with a hooker with a heart of gold, Stu does it with ... well, we won't tell you. Suffice it to say, this is Thailand, so it's not that huge of a shock.
Bradley Cooper is also back as the group's de facto leader, the arrogant Phil, as is Zach Galifianakis as the passive aggressive man-child Alan. Galifianakis' dark, off-kilter shtick made him the breakout star of the original film, and while he gets many of the best lines here, he's also even more infuriating.
Justin Bartha is along, too, but just barely; as Doug, the groom in the first film, he was missing the entire time. In the sequel, he remains safely ensconced at the group's luxury seaside resort, so he misses out on yet another wild night. While there's less of him, there's also more of Ken Jeong's character, the obnoxious, effeminate gangster, Mr. Chow. He was the weakest part of the first "Hangover" and gets even more face time here, with no improvement.
They're all there for the wedding of Stu and the beautiful Lauren (Jamie Chung) in her parents' home country. He insists he doesn't want the kind of crazy bachelor party that resulted when Doug got married, but he gives in and agrees to have one beer - in a sealed container - on the beach with his friends. Joining them is Lauren's younger brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), a 16-year-old Stanford pre-med student and cello prodigy.
Naturally, the guys all wake up in the squalor of a Bangkok hotel (shot in a tangible, grimy steaminess by Lawrence Sher), absolutely blanking as to what they did the previous night. Again. And yes, that word appears a lot in the script, as in: "I can't believe this is happening again!"
"The Hangover Part II," a Warner Bros Pictures release, is rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images. Running time: 101 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.