Whatever your feelings about the original 2009 The Hangover may be, let’s all agree on this: As a basic comedic premise, it’s pure genius, because it wasn’t obviously a comedic premise at all. Put a bunch of characters in an unfamiliar location with no idea how they got there or what they did along the way, but turn the tone sideways, and instead of a raucous crowd-pleaser, you’ve got Flash Forward. What screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore didn’t really figure out was what to do with that premise. They only seemed interested in the most obviously outrageous applications—like a pair of teenagers who suddenly found themselves with the power of invisibility, and their imaginations were limited to sneaking into the girls’ locker room.
The Hangover Part II faces a couple of huge problems from the outset: our familiarity with that once-original premise, and the apparent idiocy that the same thing could happen to the same people. While director Todd Phillips and his new team of screenwriters do a surprisingly decent job with the latter, they do most of the exact same things with the formula—with predictably similar results.
The plot’s cause for celebration this time around is the planned wedding between Stu (Ed Helms) and Lauren (Jamie Chung) in her family’s native Thailand. Joining in the festivities, of course, are Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), joined by Lauren’s precociously gifted 16-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee). They’re just planning to have one pre-wedding beer on the beach—but then they all wake up in a hotel room in Bangkok. Alan’s got a shaved head. Stu has a tattoo on his face. There’s a monkey hanging out in the room. And Teddy is nowhere to be found, having left behind one of his severed fingers.
For much of the film, it’s almost enough just to spend some quality crazy-time with Galifianakis’ Alan. With every passing performance, Galifianakis seems more and more like a savant of deadpan lunacy, and he’s in fine form here. Phillips and company actually do a terrific job of setting up his character, who not only isn’t shamed by the events from the first film, but has turned his room into a shrine to the best night of his life with his best friends. Alan’s childlike possessiveness of the “Wolfpack” buddies he considers “his” sets up everything that comes after, and Galifianakis spends that intervening time conveying a state of something akin to bliss—because no matter what happens, it’s happening with his pals.
If Phillips had thought with that level of detail about everything else in The Hangover Part II, he might have been on to something really exceptional. But there’s a general half-assedness to the way the film deals with stuff that’s not Galifianakis-related. While Bradley Cooper played a significant role in the first film as the group’s worldly alpha male, here it seems like he has virtually nothing to do but spout exposition and react to the crazy stuff happening around him; if he has 100 lines in Part II, I’m guessing that 50 of them are either “Holy shit!” or “What the fuck?” A subplot involving squeaky-voiced gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and a shadowy “businessman” (Paul Giamatti) feels almost superficially attached to echo the underworld stuff from the original. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity comes with young Teddy, whose role replacing Doug (Justin Bartha) as the object of the plot’s scavenger hunt completely overlooks his own potential to be an interesting part of the plot. How do you not get mileage out of a virtuoso teenage cellist-cum-budding Doogie Howser with a domineering father, who gets to party and loses one of his fret fingers?
It would be easy enough just to pick on The Hangover Part II for its tiny-penis gags or building its big gross-out punch line around a transsexual prostitute; when you’re hanging out with frat boys, Oscar Wilde isn’t going to be tossing off witticisms at that same party. And occasionally, the film does find humor in a surreally inventive way, like Stu improvising a ballad about their misadventures to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Allentown.” Generally, though, it feels exactly like a script that was thrown together quickly to capitalize on an unexpected success, duplicating the execution with all its flaws. If there’s a mystery remaining for another installment, it’s how you can keep wasting so much potential.
THE HANGOVER PART II
Bradley Cooper , Ed Helms , Zach Galifianakis