Back in 2009, The Hangover seemed like a breath of fresh air. Mainstream Hollywood comedies were either Apatow-powered, or increasingly dull ‘gross-out’ and/or man-child retreads.
The Hangover took all these staid ingredients and shook them up, producing an unlikely, but enjoyable break-out hit film, in the process making stars out of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. But, as is the way with these things, one hangover wasn’t enough, and so here we are two years later to reunite the gang, except this time with the stakes raised and the ante upped.
The basic set-up remains the same, except it’s Ed Helms’ character, Stu, who’s getting married, to a Thai girl back in Thailand. Phil (Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are invited, and after a brief hesitation, so is Alan (Galifianakis, complete with beard). Once the wolf-pack is back and in Thailand, the guys take the intended bride’s brother, Teddy, to the beach for one drink, and then wake up in motel room in Bangkok, minus hair, dignity, and Teddy, but with an added tattoo and a monkey. And without wanting to spoil things too much, the rest of the film is their quest to piece the lost night back together.
Now, I was an avowed fan of the first film. I enjoyed the mystery element, I liked the chemistry between the leads, and I enjoyed not knowing what was going to happen next. I also enjoyed the photo sequence reveal of the night’s antics. It was rude, crude and enjoyable. If you go to the see The Hangover Part II hoping to see pretty much an exact retread of the first one, except this time with no plot surprises, or any well-executed original ideas, then you’ll have a great time. If you were hoping for a little bit more, then I’m sorry. You’ll still have an okay time, and I defy you not to laugh out loud on several occasions, but you’ll leave thinking that they would have best left it as one-night stand.
However, as I’m kind, I’ll start with the positives. It’s still a lot funnier than most other mainstream comedies out there and isn’t afraid to take full advantage of its harder rating. There’s gratuitous swearing, nudity, violence and she-males, and it helps to make the film feel as if it is truly no holds barred.
The chemistry between the leads is also still fully in place, and you’ll once again enjoy spending time in the company of Stu, Phil, and Alan (the boring Doug is wisely sidelined once he has fulfilled his role of getting Alan in the picture, a move I count as one of the film’s positives) and there’s the much more increased role of Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow.
I’m a big fan of Jeong’s work in his many comedy roles, and he plays the role of the camp gangster Chow with such obvious delight and mischief it’s hard not to be swept along.
There are plenty of laughs to be had along the way, and some beautiful surreal moments courtesy of Alan, although, once again, the unexpected biggest comedic moments come from the nominal hero of the pictures, Stu. His incomprehension, shock and then acceptance at his actions (particularly in a certain scene) are expertly handled by Helms, and it’s a joy of understated comedy acting.
Sadly, though, these laughs are nothing you haven’t seen before, in many cases, in the previous film. It’s pretty much a beat for beat remake of the original, except this time you know exactly what’s going to happen.
Part of the unmitigated joy of the first film was the chaos and the WTF nature of the guys’ escapades. Here, it seems one scene lazily segues into the next, with a grinding inevitability. Oh, someone’s missing. Here’s the crazy facial disfigurement. Here’s the car chase, the drug-dealing gangsters, the baby/tiger (now rolled into one cigarette-smoking monkey), the guys getting beaten in a funny way (by monks with sticks, rather than tasers), the criminal activities they become embroiled in, and the celebrity cameo.
It also doesn’t help its cause by a continual referencing of the first film. Yes, it’s nice to acknowledge the events of their previous misadventures, but not when you’re going to be signposting the next joke.
One of the pleasures of the original was that the jokes seemed organic and natural, much like you and your friends had wandered into the movie and were acting how you normally would. Here, it just seemed all a bit forced and tired. That’s not to say it still didn’t make me laugh, just that I didn’t enjoy laughing as much.
The film also sags in the middle a lot, as the guys seem to aimlessly wander around Bangkok for a while, waiting for the plot to kick back in. We know where everything’s heading, so just hurry up and get there.
It also seems to lack the tension that was evident before. We don’t really know Teddy, so aren’t that concerned about him. Plus, it seems like they’re untouchable. (Phil pretty much is. He shrugs off a bullet wound like it’s nothing.)
It’s most definitely a boys-only affair, too. While the original had a couple of female characters in Stu’s evil girlfriend and Heather Graham’s heart of gold stripper (thinly sketched though they were), here there’s, literally, no girls allowed. Phil’s wife actually shows up this time, but despite a fair bit of screen time, she fails to utter a single word.
Ultimately, though, it’s the sneaking feeling of having seen it before that hinders the movie. The first one seemed unhinged, while this one, sadly, feels staid in comparison. I remember cracking up when the police car was brought to them by their valet, and that had set the tone for everything after. Here, there’s a scene where the main characters meditate. And that kind of sums up the difference between parts I and II.
It’s a shame, because Todd Phillips has access to some of the most relatable and amusing comedy characters of recent years, and the basic premise is still strong. Everyone has had nights they can’t remember, and finding out you had the ultimate night you couldn’t remember would be an incredible mix of horror, comedy, and intrigue.
It’s just a pity, then, that the wolf pack seemed to have an exact replica of the ultimate night they couldn’t remember, except in an Asian setting (which doesn’t really add anything. If you’ve ever been to Bangkok, you’ll know that they missed a trick in not taking more advantage of the craziness of the city).
I would be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy myself watching it, or didn’t laugh quite a few times, but there’s only so many times I can watch a monkey pretend to suck on a penis. Perhaps my expectations were too high for this film, or my regard for the first one too great? Either way, it left me sadly disappointed.