The original Hangover hit like a bolt from the blue. Good R-rated comedies are few and far between (although this summer we’ll be getting a bunch of R-rated comedies, but there’s no telling how many will actually be good) and the 2009 comedy brought enough surprises into its fast-paced narrative that the concept of blending a detective story with raunchy laughs worked like a charm. It’s ironic that The Hangover Part II bases so many of its jokes on shock value and yet clings so dearly to the exact same formula of the original, right down to the plot beats and character actions. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the sequel still manages to deliver laughs, but the stale stench of been-there, done-that pervades the entire film despite the vibrant background of Bangkok.
If you’ve seen The Hangover, you’ve essentially seen The Hangover Part II. This time around Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married, the wedding with his bride-to-be (Jamie Chung) will be in Bangkok in deference to her parents, and along for the ride are Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha), and much to Stu’s chagrin, Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Two nights before the wedding, the four guys along with Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) have a drink only to have the original trio wake up in a seedy hotel room with no recollection of the night’s events, new damages to their appearance, a new animal companion (the tiger has been replaced by an adorable monkey), and Teddy has gone missing. Repeat the shenanigans from the first film but this time it’s in Thailand.
It’s remarkable the extent to which the sequel grabs everything it can from the original as if it’s terrified that changing even the slightest plot point will throw off fans. On the one hand, I don’t want to spoil any of the jokes, and yet I feel like they’ve already been spoiled. Almost every situation in The Hangover Part II has a mirror in the original film and while that can be cute, it can also be disheartening. When it comes to comedy, people don’t want to hear the same jokes. If you’re going to tell someone “Why did the chicken cross the road?” the punchline can’t be “To get to the other side.” It has to be something out of left field like “To get away from the wandering hobo that was fucking it to death.” The Hangover Part II trades too much on familiarity and loses its spark as a result.
Oddly, what the sequel fails to recapture from the original is the pacing. The Hangover had a nice build up, laid the foundations of some good jokes, and then hit a wonderful frenetic pace that kept layering in fresh mysteries against new hijinks while still working in some great jokes. Part II is walking the same path as the original, but at slower pace. It does manage to up the ante and there were moments where the film got some big laughs out of me. But those moments are inconsistent and the film also leaves aside the smaller jokes that helped color the first movie. There’s nothing offhanded and inspired like Alan’s protestation “Hey! There are Skittles in there!”
The characters also aren’t as sharp as they were in the first film. Alan’s weirdness has been cranked up leaving behind deadpan jokes like “I can’t be within 500 feet of a school. Or a Chuck-E-Cheese,” and also the character has become meaner. Phil is still the take-charge leader but his mean-spirited behavior is amplified in the first act only to be almost completely forgotten post-bender. Chow (Ken Jeong) is even more cartoonish, Stu is still the stick-in-the-mud, and the dynamics simply don’t work as well this time around.
The Hangover Part II doesn’t radically alter or improve on the first film. Its greatest contribution is simply a grander scale and some solid comic set-ups with a steady stream of jokes that work well enough, but there’s nothing here that will hit you with the same force as the original. More of the same may be the right formula for some franchises (like Fast and the Furious), but The Hangover isn’t one of them.