Once upon a time, a small-budgeted comedy entirely devoid of bankable stars entered multiplexes with unremarkable fanfare only to become an acclaimed and much-liked cultural phenomenon that earned a mint at the worldwide box office. It was called The Hangover, and it was one of the most profitable motion pictures of 2009. Soon, a second round of mayhem was hastily ordered up by the greedy studio executives, and now two years later we have The Hangover Part II. Logically, high expectations surrounded the production, compounded by apprehension (especially since director Todd Phillips and star Zach Galifianakis churned out the excruciating comedy dud Due Date in the interim). Alas, this follow-up is somewhat disappointing. Instead of designing a brand new mishap for the Wolf Pack to encounter for The Hangover Part II, the makers opted to essentially remake 2009’s monster comedy hit – “redux” is a more suitable label than sequel. The lack of screenplay ingenuity is disheartening, but this Xeroxed construction does come alive in places as it stumbles down a familiar path to a familiar conclusion.
A few years after the fateful Las Vegas adventure, Phil (Cooper), Doug (Bartha) and Stu (Helms) are ready to fly to Thailand for Stu’s upcoming wedding. Fearing a repeat of the Vegas events that befell them, Stu decides against a bachelor party and only very reluctantly agrees to invite the eccentric Alan (Galifianakis) to his nuptials. On the eve of the big event, the boys – along with Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy (Lee) – enjoy a celebratory toast on the beach…then the next thing they know, it’s the morning after, and Stu, Phil and Alan are in the middle of Bangkok without any recollection of the previous night’s events. With Teddy missing, Teddy’s severed finger on ice in the room, and crime lord Chow (Jeong) unconscious on the floor, the boys set off into Bangkok’s chaotic underbelly seeking clues and witnesses.
The majority of The Hangover‘s cast and crew returned for this sequel, though screenwriters Scott Moore and Jon Lucas were replaced with Craig Mazin (Superhero Movie) and Scot Armstrong (Semi-Pro) who were assisted by Todd Phillips. But frankly, The Hangover Part II plays out as if the writers just went back to the original film’s script and wrote new jokes over it on a scene-by-scene basis on top of adding “again” to the end of several dialogue lines. It’s doubtful any sequel has ever hewed so closely to the structure of its predecessor before (even Die Hard 2 had the good sense to do something comparatively creative and fresh despite rehashing the basic conceit of the first film). Heck, the first five minutes of The Hangover and The Hangover Part II are identical beat-by-beat: people are setting up a wedding, the bride is frantically calling the boys to find out where they are, and Phil calls Doug’s wife to tell her everything has gone wrong before the credits play over a location montage. The Hangover was genuinely inventive, with the ingenious structure and the nature of the storytelling (which was more of a murder mystery) giving the film a memorable spark. Without anything new or inventive, part deux feels rote and lazy, with the makers playing things far too safely.
Of course, the biggest change here is that Bangkok takes over for Las Vegas as the generator of mayhem. Admittedly, the scenery change was nicely handled, with the Eastern mood being set by drug-dealing monkeys, frequent power outages, and “ladyboy” prostitutes. And on top of retaining the first film’s structure, The Hangover Part II stays true in other areas, with Stu singing an offbeat song about the situation and the end credits playing alongside a slideshow of photographs from the big night. Though to be fair, these two aforementioned components yield hilarious results. See, it’s not that The Hangover Part II doesn’t have laughs – believe me, it has its moments – but it lacks the creative spark and wit of the 2009 blockbuster which spawned it. The Hangover was one of the most quotable comedies of recent years and every scene was funny, whereas part deux relies more on sight gags and shock value, making this a darker, meaner, less clever film than its predecessor with a smaller laugh quotient.
Zach Galifianakis stole the show and earned his big break with The Hangover, but the star is starting to lose his comedic spark after Due Date and now this. Galifianakis massively exaggerates the character of Alan here, going as over-the-top as possible. Alan used to be socially awkward, but now he’s borderline mentally challenged, making him more sad than offbeat or endearing. While Galifianakis has his moments, it is clear that his 15 minutes of fame are coming to an end. Luckily, the other returning cast members fare better – Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha all capably slipped into their roles as if no time had passed. Ken Jeong’s Chinese gangster Mr. Chow was given a bigger role in the proceedings here, but he’s less funny as a main player – the character worked better in small doses. Also present is Paul Giamatti, who classes things up a bit in his minor role. Meanwhile, Nick Cassavetes has a one-scene cameo as a tattoo artist. This role was originally meant to be played by Mel Gibson, but protests from cast and crew led to him being replaced by Liam Neeson, who shot the scene but was unavailable when a reshoot was necessary… It is a tremendous shame that Gibson missed out on playing the role, as he could have been a tremendous comic asset. Cassavetes is, unfortunately, flat.
Watching The Hangover Part II is essentially the same experience as viewing The Hangover – it is the same film in terms of formula, narrative and resolution, except it’s louder, cruder, grosser and more profanity-ridden. Such duplication robs this sequel of any element of surprise, which is half of what made the original film such a hit in the first place. Perhaps Phillips and co were just afraid to think outside the box in fear messing up, or maybe it’s just pure laziness. Whatever. Look, it may seem like I’m being harsh on The Hangover Part II… Make no mistake, it does indeed provide laughs and an enjoyable time, and maybe you won’t even care about the laziness. But for this reviewer, the unshakable sense of déjà vu is disappointing.