Unlike most of the summer movies, which seem to be thundering into theaters without any real anticipation beyond the cacophonous marketing hype, "The Hangover Part II" seems to be a film people are unreasonably excited for. The 2009 original, directed by Todd Phillips, has metamorphosed from simply being the biggest R-rated comedy of all time (and winner of a Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Golden Globe) to being a movie that average filmgoers consider an instant "classic" of the genre and a staple of any fun-lover's DVD collection. (It's also the biggest selling comedy DVD of all time. Jesus.) The prospect of another movie, again starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis, coming this quickly, has been tantalizing for cinemagoers and something that is getting people really, really jazzed, which makes it somewhat harder to report that "The Hangover Part II" is one of the laziest, unself-aware and most unpleasant Hollywood products we've seen all year. And we just saw the fourth "Pirates Of The Caribbean" movie a couple of weeks ago.
The premise of "The Hangover Part II" is blatantly, almost shockingly identical to the first film. It's the same bunch of bland white guys (Justin Bartha is back as another of the buddies), who gather for a bachelor party (this time it's Ed Helms who is getting hitched) and who have a crazily unhinged night of debauchery that they promptly forget and are forced to piece back together. Instead of Las Vegas, the movie is set in Bangkok. While the filmmakers have said they tried to "own the template" of the first film, it is largely dismaying how unabashedly "The Hangover Part II" pretty much recycles every element from its predecessor, including the originally improvised scene where Ed Helms makes up a song about their experiences. That idea suggests a cynical cash-grab, but the entire tone of the film (not to mention the cast and director's recent thoughts on their take on this sequel) makes one believe that everyone involved actually thinks something remotely fresh and new is taking place.
It turns out that the setting is the biggest (and perhaps the only significant) change from the first "Hangover," since the story elements are repeated almost verbatim, beat-for-beat. This makes for a comedy that is less fun to watch, especially when you catch on to just how much of a carbon copy it is of the first film, with zero surprise elements. The duplication even goes down to the soundtrack. In the first film, the dudes strutted to Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing", while here they strut to "Stronger" (both from Graduation which suggests Phillips might do well to update his iPod). In fact, the use of music throughout is particularly uninspired and essentially continues Phillips' annoying tendency to edit to songs like he's inserting tiny music videos into his movie.
But back to Bangkok: the new movie's location seems to have been chosen because it would give the story some much needed scope combined with a different visual palette, with the city's "Blade Runner"-by-way-of-Christopher Nolan's Gotham City web of crooked streets, knot of neon signage and post-apocalyptic overhead wires. Because of the storied unpredictability of the city, there's a looseness that comes with Bangkok, both morally and sexually, that outdoes Las Vegas to a considerable degree, while adding an element of edgy danger. Yet the film is more outrageous, and simultaneously much more conservative and tame.
Any conflict that pops up, like Bradley Cooper getting shot by a Russian gangster, is resolved almost immediately, without incident. Most of the craziness this time is centered around the fey gangster Chow (Ken Jeong) from the first film, who is embroiled in some scheme we never really understand, with a kingpin played by Paul Giamatti, and the fact that the boys "misplace" Helms' fiancé's little brother (played by Mason Lee, son of director Ang Lee). It's the same rote bullshit, amplified and repeated, over and over again. At least in the first film there was a "reason" for the boys to want to have a wild weekend to themselves, since they were feeling hedged in by their shrewish wives or girlfriends. In this entry, most everyone is happy (except for Galifianakis, whose character has been retrofitted to resemble Francis from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure"), which takes a considerable amount of fun out of finding out what prickish assholes they've been.
The level of tastelessness -- which you'll either find hilarious or offensive -- is turned up a notch here, but after about thirty minutes, becomes pretty stale. In that spirit, one of the bigger (and admittedly funny) gross-out gags of the movie revolves around chicks-with-dicks. The raunchy jokes, while shocking, only serve to remind the audience that the scuzzy debauchery that felt so genuine and painful in the Vegas' setting seems innocuous and taken for granted in this picture. While some of the film works, it's astounding how much more of it is unfunny or plain uninspired. To think that the comedians and director of this caliber would settle for a sequel that largely coasts on the goodwill and memory of the first film suggests a clueless, self-satisfied group of people that have drunk their own kool-aid and read too much of their glowing press. An example of just how phoned in this film is? Instead of a baby, there's a monkey which serves to tell the exact same penis jokes. Revolutionary!
So, what's good in "The Hangover Part II?" Aside from Galifianakis making the most of his improvisations and creating a few strong laughs that one would fast-forward to if they could, there's very little to enjoy, and actually, he misses more often than he hits. We witnessed several people walk out of the screening we attended, which we probably would have done if we weren't obligated to write about it. Meanwhile, the other two leads – Helms and Cooper – barely register. In fact, Helms has the cinematic presence of a nicely painted wall and is certainly the weakest link in the film this time; his performance amounts to loud shrieking over and over again. And Cooper, so good in this year's underrated, "Twilight Zone"-y "Limitless," is reduced to just sweating with his shirt open and saying "fuck" really loud.
Some say plot doesn't really matter in comedy. So does director Todd Phillips, and to a point, he's right. But what's even less forgivable than the hackneyed and apathetic plot is the clunky mess that passes for editing. The pacing is confused, the film lurches in fits and starts all while we ponder the identical mysteries that plagued our protagonists in the first film: how did we get here and how do we find another missing person? And back to Phillips' point, plot doesn't really matter, but when the solutions are this painfully uninspired and seem as if they were created on-the-spot on the day of the shoot with no measure of quality control, no free passes can be granted.
None of this matters of course because the aforementioned feverish anticipation will give the movie an absolutely astronomical opening weekend. By the time all is said and done, it will most likely replace the original as the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. But it's a sloppy, tossed-off excuse for a sequel those involved should reconsider being proud of. More importantly, will anybody even remember it a couple of weeks from now? Our guess is that moviegoers will feel just like the main characters: lost, confused, disappointed, and desperately trying to move on, though there will be plenty who are happy enough to go on the exact same ride, even if the results are far less satisfying. [D]