Any serious drinker knows that feeling of waking up in the morning so desperately hungover you feel like a reanimated corpse, and the groaning, quivering vow to never touch the stuff again. That resolve usually only lasts until your dehydrated brain has forgotten the sensation of slamming up against your skull. Then it’s, “Sure, pour me another!”
So it is with Hollywood sequels: We pay our money for “The Matrix: Revolutions,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” or — shudder — “Star Wars: Episode 1,” and walk out feeling like we just met the dim-witted inbred cousin of a movie we really liked. We convince ourselves we won’t get fooled again, but then along comes something like “The Hangover Part II” and, despite all common sense, we start thinking, “Hey, that could be pretty cool — like the first one.”
Hope springs eternal, but “The Hangover Part II” is to “The Hangover” as Spam is to pig. To be fair, director Todd Phillips’ sequel to his 2009 hit does provide some laughs, just not nearly as many as before. But can a film with a drug-dealing, cigarette-smoking monkey be all bad? (Hold that thought.)
The premise is flat-out identical to the first film: There’s a bachelor party, a blackout, and the bleary next morning, when buddies Stu, Phil and Alan (Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis) have to figure out what the hell happened, find a missing friend, deal with kidnappers, cops, and call girls, and make it back to the wedding on time. “The Hangover Part II” isn’t so much a sequel as a remix.
Ken Jeong returns as flaming gangster Mr. Chow, Jamie Chung usurps Heather Graham as Stu’s hot bride-to-be, and even Mike Tyson is back for the ride, doing the worst rapping you will ever hear by someone who isn’t white. The antics this time involve a lost weekend in Bangkok, which easily rivals the first film’s Las Vegas in offering maximum debauchery for your dollar, although the filmmakers find little in the way of local color, beyond the inevitable lady-boy jokes. (They save the Ping-Pong balls for the closing credits.)
The best thing about the new “Hangover” remains the casting: The three leads each have very different comedic styles, which play well off each other. Cooper, as the alpha-dawg “player” of the group, has the easy charm and self-deprecating wit of a young Jeff Bridges, and his presence may also explain the large female fan base for this guys-behaving-badly bromance. (See the upcoming “Bridesmaids” for a hilarious chick-flick riposte.)
Helms has a great line in prissy uptightness as pussy-whipped dentist Stu, while Galifianakis, as immature geek Alan, remains off in his own little universe. Galifianakis stole the first film, and although he’s even more annoying this time, the script lets him down, providing few of those offbeat lines that play to his stone-cold sense of the absurd.
Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are absent this time, and the film suffers for it. The humor is crueler and cruder, and symptomatic is the “happy” ending, which seems to forget that one character has had his life and career ruined by dismemberment. Ah well, on to the closing montage of debauched pics from the Soi Cowboy red-light district!
Amidst the jokes, the franchise rather surprisingly has a message as well. In its one serious moment, Phil puts his arm around a shaken Stu, who is recalling his humiliating night of passion with a lady-boy, and offers him this advice: “Forget about it. I’ve done so much f-cked-up sh-t. I just forget about it.” Denial and repression as the key to happiness in life! Now here’s a movie that really understands the American male.