The wolfpack takes a trip they’ve by and large taken before.
Probably since the moment of its official announcement, the hype and anticipation surrounding The Hangover Part II speculated that the sequel to the 2009 monster hit comedy couldn’t avoid a presumed – and expected – sophomore stumble. Much of that first film’s success, really, grew out of its out-of-left-field surprise : with its pairing of journeyman comics Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis with then-unproven leading man Bradley Cooper, and a concept that seemed to owe more to Las Vegas tourism commercials than organic inspiration, the film’s raunchy escapism and bromantic camaraderie was, if not exactly fresh, a modern take on the “boys will be boys” comedic trope. Enjoying a playing field more or less left to itself in the no-fun zone of the summer 2009 movie season, the original grossed close to half a billion dollars worldwide.
Jump ahead two years to this sequel, whose guiding maxim seems to run something along the lines of “nothing succeeds like success.” But can it succeed? Well no, maybe of course not, but then it doesn’t often try very hard. The budget is more than doubled, the jokes are raunchier and there are more genitalia on display, but audiences will likely find a depressing amount of sameness anyway. If you liked the first, you’ll like this one, but not as much and perhaps even in spite of yourself.
Changing the environs from Vegas to the more picturesque – but perhaps no less heady – setting of Bangkok, this second adventure has the gang decamping for Thailand to celebrate the marriage of “wolfpack” member Stu (Ed Helms) to a woman of Thai descent (Jamie Chung.) Buddies Phil (Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are onboard as groomsmen, and the gang reluctantly invites Doug’s brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis), as before, at the urging of Doug’s wife (Sasha Barrese.) The marriage is far from ideal almost at once. The bride’s father (Nirit Sirijanya) disapproves of Stu, comparing him to rice porridge, and Alan takes an immediate, competitive dislike to her brother Teddy (Mason Lee.)
Stu’s plans for a low-key, beachside campfire bachelor party take a turn for the disastrous – the movie has to happen somehow – and the gang wakes up the next morning in a Bangkok hotel room with, naturally, no memory of the previous night. Teddy is missing, though one of his fingers is recovered from a glass of water, and bumbling criminal Chow (Ken Jeong) is naked and unconscious on the hotel room floor.
Panicked but determined to find Teddy, the group reenters the sun-drenched, sun-bleached Bangkok streets hoping to find him before the wedding ceremony that evening. Their search gets them entangled with a corrupt businessman (Paul Giamatti, completely wasted here), a hermaphrodite strip bar/brothel, and Russian gangsters who want the obnoxious, cigarette-smoking monkey the wolfpack found in their room.
Even before the search really begins, anyone paying attention can spot the crippling loyalty to the original’s bag of tricks: the seamy morning-after locales, the replacement of Teddy for Doug as missing person, the use of Chow as manic comic foil; Teddy’s final rescue comes not as a result of the group’s diligence but as a brainstorm that reveals his hiding place all along. That’s fine by itself, but the innovation this time around seems largely based on amping the shock value of the first: as the original had frontal nudity, this one displays transsexual body parts. Stu has sex with a man instead of a woman. People are shot instead of beaten up.
In time the devotion becoming slavish, then almost compulsive, except the jokes fall flat – nothing’s as funny the second time – and there aren’t enough of them to make the repetition besides the point, as in similarly comedy sequels like Airplane II and all the iterations of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Director Todd Philips, working with two screenwriters who didn’t participate in the first, keep the jokes at the same pitch as the predecessor. But without the element of surprise – with the expectation of getting shocked – the shock value deflates, like a punch you know is coming and then doesn’t sting as much as a result.
The performances are similarly uniform, and not in a way that’s always endearing. Cooper can coast by on looks and charm – that’s all the role asks of him, really – but Helms, Galifianakis, and Jeong have a harder time keeping their respective schticks fresh. We’ve groused before that Galifianakis was already on his way to becoming what Steve Zahn was in the 90s: a talented, oddball comic actor whose welcome was squandered on inferior projects. But his weirdo routine is starting to show its age already, particularly in the malice Alan shows for Teddy and his childlike devotion to the monkey. Helms and Jeong, meanwhile, go through R-rated motions of the characters they play on NBC Thursday nights.
There’s an old piece of conventional wisdom that sequels will typically reap sixty percent of the box office as their hit predecessors. Why shouldn’t the same formula apply to audience satisfaction? The Hangover Part II is sixty percent as entertaining as the first, the rest lost to limp shock value and diminished inspiration. If you can settle for that, you won’t have a bad time.
- Michael Kabel