The Hangover Part II (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Whatever your feelings about the original The Hangover may be, let's agree on this: As a basic comedic premise, it's pure genius, because it wasn't obviously a comedic premise at all.
Put a bunch of characters in an unfamiliar location with no idea how they got there or what they did along the way, and you could just as easily have a drama, à la ABC's now-defunct FlashForward. Instead, original Hangover screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore turned the tone sideways, setting us up for a raucous crowd-pleaser.
What they didn't really figure out, though, was how to give us more than the idea's most obviously outrageous applications. Like a pair of teenagers who suddenly found themselves with the power of invisibility, their imaginations were limited to sneaking into the girls' locker room.
The Hangover Part II faces a couple huge problems from the outset: our familiarity with that once-original premise, and the apparent idiocy that the same thing could happen to the same people. While director Todd Phillips and his new team of screenwriters do a surprisingly decent job with the latter, they do most of the exact same things with the formula — with predictably similar results.
The cause for celebration this time is the planned wedding between Stu (Ed Helms) and Lauren (Jamie Chung) in her family's native Thailand. Joining in the festivities, of course, are Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), joined by Lauren's precociously gifted 16-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee). They're just planning to have one pre-wedding beer on the beach — but then they all wake up in a hotel room in Bangkok. Alan's got a shaved head. Stu has a face tattoo. There's a monkey hanging out in the room. And Teddy is nowhere to be found, having left behind one of his severed fingers.
For much of the film, it's almost enough just to spend quality crazy-time with Alan; Galifianakis, a savant of deadpan lunacy, is in fine form. The film does a terrific job of setting up his character, who not only isn't shamed by the events from the first film, but has turned his room into a shrine to the best night of his life with his best friends. Alan's childlike possessiveness of the "Wolfpack" buddies he considers "his" sets up everything that comes after, and Galifianakis spends that intervening time conveying a state of something akin to bliss — because no matter what happens, it's happening with his pals.
Had that level of detail been applied to everything else in the film, it might have succeeded. But there's a half-assedness to everything not Galifianakis-related. While Bradley Cooper played a significant role in the first film, here he has virtually nothing to do but react to the stuff happening around him. A subplot involving squeaky-voiced gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and a shadowy "businessman" (Paul Giamatti) feels superficially attached to echo the underworld stuff from the original. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity comes with young Teddy, whose role as the object of the plot's scavenger hunt completely overlooks his own potential to be an interesting part of the plot.
It would be easy enough just to pick on Part II for its tiny-penis gags, or building its big gross-out punch line around a tranny prostitute, but occasionally the film does find humor in a surreally inventive way. Generally, though, it feels exactly like a script that was thrown together quickly to capitalize on an unexpected success, duplicating the execution — and the flaws — of the first.