“The Hangover Part II,” director Todd Phillips’ follow-up to his 2009 hit, is exactly that: the same premise, but in a new city and with a bigger role for Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). The result feels more like an unabashed re-make than a sequel and ultimately fails to live up to the innovation and side-splitting raunchiness of the original.
Set two years after Doug’s (Justin Bartha) wedding, “The Hangover Part II” reunites the wolf pack for dentist Stu’s (Ed Helms) turn at the altar. (Alas, Heather Graham’s character has been replaced by a decidedly less interesting Jamie Chung). Given the disastrous turn of events at the last bachelor party, Stu tries to satisfy his groomsmen with a bachelor brunch but is vehemently overruled by Phil (Bradley Cooper), the restless family man. At the behest of Doug’s wife, everyone’s favorite bearded sidekick, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), gets invited last-minute to the wedding party, and the friends set off for Thailand, also joined by the bride’s younger brother. After the rehearsal dinner, one drink cuts to the next morning, and thereafter, the story devolves into situations that seem all too familiar: a case of mistaken identity, the questionable use of animals, a ransom scheme, an MIA groom and excessive male nudity, to name a few.
At the outset, the characters seem rusty and tense as though they, like the audience, know what is expected of them and are unsure of whether they can deliver. But once the insanity of events has commenced and the phrase, “I can’t believe this is happening again,” is exhausted, the story quickly picks up steam. On one hand, the film retains a constant level of humor simply be adhering so strongly to the formula of the original, but on the other, the predictability makes everything less funny. To be fair, “The Hangover Part II” does have its moments, but overall, the script lacks its predecessor’s cleverness. In Bangkok, which serves as the new Las Vegas, Stu, Phil and Alan are like mere vestiges of their former selves, invoking elements from the 2009 film rather than bringing anything fresh to the characters.
Because Phillips was approached to draft a sequel even before the theatrical release of “The Hangover,” it is somewhat surprising that he opted not to deviate from its basic plot without knowing of its commercial and critical success. The main problem with the new installment is that, particularly in Hollywood, lightning rarely strikes twice. When a film becomes a blockbuster for the ways in which it pushes the envelope (in this case, liberating the R-rated comedy and road movie conventions), one cannot simply rehash the same story and expect it to perform as well. Whether “The Hangover Part II” is a case of a director’s commitment to his fanbase gone awry or simply another lazy product of the Hollywood industrial complex, the bottom line is that it would have been better for Phillips to have tried something new than to have not tried.
Don’t get me wrong, though: if you’re looking for laughs, you will find them, and moviegoers from this readership are sure to appreciate the film’s lone Stanford reference. In the bigger picture, however, “The Hangover Part II” is simply not the big kick-off to summer movies that it could have been. Today, in the age of sequels and franchises that are renewed long past their expiration dates (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” anyone?), it’s about time Hollywood realizes that if it wants to bring audiences to the theaters, it needs to give us something new.