If you loved The Hangover, you’ll love The Hangover Part II. And if that sounds obvious, like saying, “If you loved your Denny’s Moon Over My Hammy breakfast this morning, then you will still love Denny’s Moon Over My Hammy breakfast two years from now,” it’s because, well, that’s exactly what it’s like. Because The Hangover Part II is exactly like The Hangover. Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Too often, sequels either over- or undercompensate. They either pull out all the ridiculous stops, becoming a parody of the first movie (hello, Sex and the City 2), or they get lazy and indulgently self-referential, depending on the box office success of the first installment to sell tickets (ahem, Ocean’s Twelve). Whether it’s bravado or ennui or just the dreaded sophomore slump, there’s a reason sequels are so universally maligned: They almost never live up to the originals. So the fact that director Todd Phillips has essentially cloned his 2009 blockbuster is kind of refreshing. There’s no pretense—he found a formula that works and he’s sticking to it. He’s reducing, reusing and recycling. The only problem is that the jokes aren’t quite as funny and the setups aren’t quite as shocking. Watching The Hangover Part II is like experiencing a flash of déjà vu: thrilling, for a moment, with an aftertaste of uneasiness. Wait, you think, I’ve been here before.
Since The Hangover centered around a wedding, so must The Hangover Part II. This time, buttoned-up dentist Stu (Ed Helms) is marrying his Thai bride, Lauren (Jamie Chung—no word of what happened to Heather Graham’s adorable, vapid stripper, who seemed to win Stu’s heart the last go-round). This big event will happen near Bangkok, which subs in for Las Vegas as the movie’s fourth main character and the boys’ debaucherous playground. Groomsmen include milquetoasty Doug (Ken Doll look-alike Justin Bartha) and thrill-seeking Phil (Bradley Cooper), the family man who still just wants to ditch his diaper bag and party (Phil’s spouse, who was MIA for the first movie, does not even speak in this one). And, because the filmmakers needed a reason for socially stunted “stay-at-home son” Alan (Zack Galifianakis) to come along, Stu caves to pressure from Doug’s wife (Alan’s cousin) and invites him.
It’s not giving too much away to say that things go down exactly the same as they did last time, with superficial variations. For example, after a seemingly innocuous toast (this time on a beach, not a casino roof), Stu, Phil and Alan wake up the next morning in a trashed hotel room, missing their fourth man (the bride’s 16-year-old brother, Teddy, in this version, in lieu of Doug, who watches most of the sequel from the sidelines) but finding a wild animal (instead of a Bengal tiger, it’s a monkey). Once again, Stu’s appearance has changed dramatically (he’s kept all his teeth this time, but added a tribal face tattoo) and the three amigos have to comb their pockets and check their phones for evidence of what they did and how they got there. The villainous Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) reappears (for old time’s sake, he even gets trapped in a small, enclosed space!), and Mike Tyson also returns in a totally unnecessary and kind of depressing cameo. There are, to be fair, a few new plot points: Instead of one full-frontal penis shot, there are at least three. Someone loses a finger. And while Stu yet again finds himself in a romantic entanglement after his blackout, this one is far less permanent, and much more disturbing, than a quickie wedding. But overall, The Hangover II is not much more than a Mad Libs version of its first installment, with different nouns and verbs penciled in.
That said, the first movie was raucous and often quite funny, and the second has its moments. Galifianakis once again steals every scene as the offensive, Rain Man-like Alan, who pronounces Thailand “thigh land” and is prone to outrageous, mildly autistic one-liners. The rehearsal dinner, in which Lauren’s strict father compares Stu to his learning disabled brother, hits just the right tone of cringe-worthy hilarity. I’m just sorry there wasn’t more to distinguish The Hangover II from its slightly sharper predecessor. Perhaps Lauren’s father hit on an apt metaphor.