Director: Todd Phillips
Runtime: 102 minutes
It’s rare to encounter a sequel that’s more rewarding when you haven’t seen the original. But director Todd Phillips has created an enigma of sorts in the next incarnation of his 2009 smash hit The Hangover. It may be under the sequel moniker, but The Hangover Part II does nothing to advance “the world” or the characters that inhabit it. Sure, it isn’t a comic-book movie or an evolving franchise, but the sheer lack of inventiveness makes this one of the laziest films we are bound to get this summer.
The film is filled with callbacks, but it is not preposterous to claim one may have a better experience if they have no knowledge of the original. By using an identical structure, beat-for-beat, the element of surprise is gone. A crazy Asian man jumping out of an ice box instead of a car trunk, masturbation/penis jokes with a monkey instead of a baby, waking up in a trashed Bangkok room instead of in Las Vegas; the list goes on and on from the first to last scene. Yes, even the credits many loved from the original don’t have the same impact here.
The opening credits shots even match, as we see “A Todd Phillips movie” over the identically framed push-in shot of the wedding ceremony being set up. In a world where audiences connect with Freidberg/Seltzer films that simply reenact scenes from popular movies, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong were mistaken that they can copy that formula here and achieve similar results. With the blueprint being taken from their own film, it almost makes it worse.
Thankfully, Phillips still injects some laughs here. He showed a dark side in his last Robert Downey Jr.-starring film Due Date, but he takes it to another level in Bangkok. I appreciated upping the comedic stakes (involving penises and cigarettes where they shouldn’t be), and those big gags work for the most part, but he also retooled his characters to match.
Bradley Cooper was a douchebag in the first film. He stole money from his students and put his needs before everyone else. But that wild side was alluring and fun to behold. Here, he is simply unpleasant as they strut through the grungy underground of Bangkok, as Phillips opts to focus on the surroundings more than his characters. Even Zach Galifianakis as Alan, whose feeble-minded charm was the highlight of the first adventure, has turned into a mean-spirited shell of his former self. The only exception is Ed Helms as Stu, who is getting married to Jamie Chung‘s character. He has the most weight and his repeated bewildered what-the-hell-is-happening-attitude works again.
Ken Jeong is back as the world’s most enamored drug kingpin. As a fan of the guy, I found his liveliness and unexpected actions a highlight of the drama, but others may feel very differently. The other side characters manage to be a giant waste. Bryan Callen, who married Stu and Heather Graham‘s character in Vegas, returns in a different role as a strip club owner for no apparent reason, other than as a cheap, baffling tongue-in-cheek “joke.” I won’t “ruin” the rest of the cameos, but they are considerably underwhelming, especially a late in the game appearance that feels 110% forced. By the finale, I was praying we’ve been tricked and Mel Gibson would indeed show up.
The Hangover Part II starts off particularly weak, but there are a number of gags that connect to make for a watchable experience. The highest praise for a comedy is being able to revisit it, finding new things to laugh at, but I have no desire to ever experience this one again. Like any hangover, one wakes up begrudgingly exclaiming “I’ll never do that ever again.” Phillips failed to follow that advice and when it comes time to cash in again on a third, let’s hope he smartens up.
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