Todd Phillips’ bachelor party caper The Hangover took everybody by surprise. A surprise entry into 2009’s top box office earners, the genuinely disarming comedy has now become just as much a part of popular culture as the totems that influenced it. A sequel was inevitable, although Phillips’ follow-up Due Date failed to bring about quite the same level of irreverent fun. Dipping back into the well a second time is always a dangerous thing with a comedy, as there is always a temptation to do exactly what you did the first time. A very great temptation indeed.
With the memories of their last wild night behind them, firm friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Stu (Ed Helms) reconvene on the eve of Stu’s wedding to Lauren (Jamie Chung). Jetting to Thailand with ever-present and always eccentric fourth wheel Alan (Zach Galifianakis) in tow, their plans for a relaxing vacation take a turn for the worse when a quiet drink turns into another debauched evening. Awakening in the Bangkok apartment of shady criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) with all the signs of excessive intoxication but no memory of proceedings, the gang are again forced to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Unable to locate Lauren’s sixteen-year-old brother Teddy (Mason Lee, Chosen), the self-styled wolfpack sets out in search of answers, with the colourful characters they encounter along the way inspiring a plethora of embarrassing recollections to come to the fore.
“Phil, I think it happened again,” remarks Galifianakis’ Alan upon waking up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room. The Hangover: Part II is well aware that lightning can rarely strike twice, and that much of the charm of the original film was in just how unexpectedly disarming it was. There is an instant recognition that the Wolfpack’s adventures can’t fully take audiences by surprise anymore and, coupled with knowing winks to the audience, the follow-up is an unabashed piece of fan-service. As such, this installment doesn’t even attempt to distinguish itself from the successful first chapter, clearly subscribing to the theory that more of the same is more. Indeed, Mazin, Armstrong and Phillips’ script simply sets out to tell the same story that proved to be a success two years earlier, with a convenient change of scenery from the overplayed Las Vegas to the seedier side of Bangkok. The chaos that ensues is an easy fit for this group of recalcitrants, although the story suffers a few hits to momentum in the transition.
The Hangover: Part II takes a much darker turn than its predecessor, which is a mean feat for a first entry that took the trio to the darkest corners of the brightest city in the US. Where the first entry poured copious amounts of humour into every situation and scene, the sequel takes its time to get going, ironically spending far too much time setting up a scenario that it has already implicitly acknowledged will be a repeat of the original. When it does go into full flight, despite the game of substitution is plays, there are genuine belly-laughs to be had. Bradley Cooper remains a likeable leading man, although it is Ed Helms as the unhinged “everyman” with a demon who garners most of the laughs this time out. A scene in an alleyway following the shooting injury of one of the characters may just be one of his finest moments on screen, and a sign that his natural flair for comedy can make any situation hilarious. It is only Galifianakis, despite his growing profile and comedic status, that disappoints this time out. Borrowing liberal amounts from his Due Date persona, he is intensely unlikeable and often mean-spirited, and a major departure from the affable idiot we came to love last time. While The Hangover: Part II does manage to avoid many of the obvious racist jokes it could have sunk to, the change of city loses its edge in translation.
The Hangover: Part II is released on May 26, 2011 in Australia by Roadshow Films.