Bangkok – bigger, sexier, sleazier than Vegas! That’s the transparent thinking behind The Hangover Part II. If you’ve been anywhere near a TV or seen a movie trailer lately, you know that this sequel brings Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis to Thailand for another wedding, letting them run amok in a city offering more muck than most.
And if you liked the megahit original, you may even enjoy Part II, while recognizing that it’s not very funny, that all the laughs seem to come from imposing your memory of the wild original on this retread. Director Todd Phillips bought some inspired lunacy to The Hangover and films like Old School, but The Hangover Part II cautiously, and impossibly, tries to top the original without shaking up the formula. It feels tired despite its car chases and attempts at fast-paced energy.
Ed Helms, better than ever, steals the movie and does everything he can to make it work as Stu, the buttoned-down dentist whose wedding is taking place in Thailand because his fiancee’s family is there. “I’m still putting the broken pieces of my psyche back together,” he says at the start, rejecting the very idea of a bachelor party. As if.
Cooper has less to do this time as Phil, the problem-solver of the three, and Galifianakis is far less surprising as wackadoodle Alan, the guy who creates most of those problems.
The film cranks out a premise that allows them to wake up one morning with no memory of how they arrived in a bug-infested hotel room, and sets them on a quest to find Stu’s 16-year-old brother-in-law to be, whom they have misplaced during the bar-crawling night. It also brings back Ken Jeong as the criminal Mr. Chow, who adds nothing except a whiff of the past. When Paul Giamatti shows up late in the film as a threatening associate of Chow’s, it’s a relief to see a new character.
While the first Hangover got funnier and more raucous as it went on, this one can load almost all the comic bits in the trailer. You’ve already seem Stu’s Mike Tyson-inspired face tattoo; really pretty clever, but once you’ve seen it, you’re way ahead of the movie. There’s the cigarette-smoking monkey, and Alan’s nearly-shaved head. You probably haven't seen Stu’s latest one-night stand (eww!). Helms wrings maximum comedy out of Stu’s alarm and squeamishness, and he has a memorable goofball moment singing a version of “Allentown” that counts all the misadventures they’ve fallen into. He’s the best reason to see the movie.
Still, The Hangover Part II is disappointing, especially coming after the funnier smarter Bridesmaids, which successfully borrows some of the wedding-goes-wild dynamics from the first Hangover and shows that there’s a way to push the formula to new comic extremes. It may send the characters racing around down-and-dirty Bangkok, but The Hangover II is meeker than Stu the dentist.