Somebody must have roofied me. I left The Hangover Part II feeling dazed and abused, wondering how bad things happened to such a good comedy. To paraphrase Ken Jeong’s memorably bug-fuck mobster, Mr. Chow, “I want answers, bitches.” How could a 2009 raunchfest that slapped a grin on my face I couldn’t unglue degenerate into a cold dish of sloppy seconds?
The first Hangover caught me off-guard. Instead of an avalanche of bachelor-party re-tweets, director and co-writer Todd Phillips raised the bar by leaving out the damn party and focusing on the hardcore hilarity of the before and after. And he found just the right actors to knock heads and psyches as a wussy wolf pack reeling from a Vegas bender the guys can’t even remember. From the moment Bradley Cooper, as married teacher Phil, phoned the bride to say that he, his wimpy dentist friend, Stu (Ed Helms), and
the bride’s nut-job brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), had lost groom Doug (Justin Bartha) in Sin City, the movie turned a moldy farce into a funhouse. The Hangover earned a worldwide gross of $467 million and the title as the most successful R-rated comedy in, well, forever.
A sequel sounds like a no-brainer. Take the same ingredients, add a new location – Bangkok replaces Vegas – and history repeats itself. Except it doesn’t. The Hangover Part II isn’t a total bummer. Phillips guides Galifianakis to a few mighty hoots, but it is a disappointment, which for me is harder to take than abject failure. Epic badness exerts a perverse fascination, like Caddyshack II with no Bill Murray. But The Hangover follow-up just lies there, waiting vainly to ignite even with the home-team champs mostly in place.
Cooper, outstanding in Limitless, isn’t asked to do more than look pretty. Helms, so solid in Cedar Rapids, is pushed hard. Too hard. His Stu is now the groom on deck, which is what brings the boys to Thailand. The parents of the bride, Lauren (Jamie Chung), want the wedding on their home turf. Her father, Fohn (Nirut Sirichanya), thinks Stu is a pussy, and points with pride to his 16-year-old prodigy son, Teddy (Mason Lee), a cello master doing pre-med at Stanford. The laws of sequeldom demand that the kid join the wolf pack at Stu’s bachelor party. On their one night in badass Bangkok, Teddy ends up MIA. “Bangkok has him,” whispers Mr. Chow.
As the guys go in search of Teddy, all R-rated hell breaks loose in the form of an angry crime boss (Paul Giamatti), an angrier Russian mob, a bleeding facial tattoo, a tranny hooker, a sliced-off finger and a monkey with a monkey on her back, that being a nasty smoking habit. Blame, as per usual, can be traced to Alan, who has spiked some marshmallows with muscle relaxers and his ADD medication. Result? Drug-induced chaos in which the guys wake up the morning after oblivious to what happened the night before when they danced with the devil. This somehow leads to Alan shaving his head and Galifianakis walking off with every scene worth stealing.
In the new Hollywood, Galifianakis is the go-to guy for killer laughs. Even with Part II spinning out of control, he gives the movie a center; he’s roaringly funny but also surprisingly touching at making us believe in Alan’s need to belong. The rest is manic energy without a real destination. By crowding the film with incident – chases involving cars, boats and bikes – Phillips crowds out the character details that made the first film a party to remember.
Who’s to blame for the fuck-up? This time Phillips co-wrote the script with different scribes whose credits don’t inspire confidence: Scot Armstrong worked on the Farrelly brothers flop The Heartbreak Kid, and Craig Mazin lists Scary Movie 3 and 4 on his credit (debit?) sheet. Then again, Phillips collaborated bracingly on the first Hangover with Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who perpetrated the crimes of Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The problem is that The Hangover Part II isn’t a movie at all, it’s just a blueprint for one. To those who say expediency and a rush to a big payday had nothing to do with getting this sizzle-free sequel into the summer marketplace, I’m calling bullshit.