You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have The Hangover Part II, a movie that takes everything clever and amusing about its first part and turns it into something of a retread. We’ve seen it all before, and we certainly know the story: a few friends get way too drunk, wake up with no memory of anything that happened, and have to go on a fact-finding mission to recover the pieces of the night before. The film falls into the trap of its formula and can’t seem to get out. It worked in the first one because there’s no reason that any of that stuff should have happened – it wasn’t in the nature of those characters – but now it is in their nature, we’re taught to expect it, and there’s no reason it should have happened. Again. Maybe that’s funny to some people, but it belies the originality of the characters, characters I grew to love in the first film.
The Hangover was a character study, if you think about it. Yeah, it was a buddy movie, and a road movie, and a raunchy, R-rated comedy about a night of heavy drinking, but, at the risk of spoiling the joke, it was also about four guys with severe personality disorders learning about themselves. Given that, the film was interesting, and not just funny. It was a character-driven comedy, with dialogue carefully designed for the moment. Comedies are funniest when the situations are organic. The Hangover took that idea and flipped it on its head, making the punchlines the joke and the jokes the punchline, telling the entire film backwards, and placing our characters in situations that weren’t organic, but became organic because of another unknown situation that they had already been through. Part II does the same thing, but it’s expected, so the punchline that was the joke the first time around is now the punchline, but the situations they didn’t know about while they were drunk are still the punchline. It’s all about the payoff, but when there isn’t any buildup, how can we get the joke? Because we’ve heard it before? “Why the long face?” isn’t funny unless the horse walks into the bar.
When our film opens, Stu (Ed Helms) is marrying the gorgeous Lauren (Jamie Chung). Her father (Nirut Sirichanya) disapproves, probably because he saw The Hangover, but the plans go along anyway. Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) are getting ready to go to Thailand for the wedding, and want to give Stu a bachelor party. Knowing that didn’t work too well last time, Stu instead opts for a “Bachelor Brunch” at IHOP. Not good enough. And as soon as Alan (Zack Galifianakis) is invited, it should be obvious to everyone involved that this isn’t going to end well. Of course, Alan was responsible for the mess in the first film, but he also saved the day, so, against Stu’s better judgment, he invites him to the wedding. They’re also given the task of looking after the bride’s little brother, kid genius Teddy (Mason Lee). They all go have a beer, and wake up hours later in a shady hostel room, with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), without Doug and, more importantly, with only Teddy’s finger, in the deep heart of seedy Bangkok.
Each character in the film is reduced to a simple version of the better characters they were in 2009. Doug is reduced to the conscience at the other end of the phone (remember Dwight Yoakam in Crank? It’s like that), and Mr. Chow is a sillier version of the effeminate gangster he used to be. He’s also pretty good friends with Alan. Phil is the only character treated with the same care as he was in the first film; he’s never been the better fourth of any of the group, but he’s a genuinely good man, and his parental care for Alan is still intact. Bradley Cooper does an excellent job in these films. I remember, in the first film, enjoying the child-like, clueless nature of Alan, and the way Zack G. played him as such. He never made fun of the character, and played it with as much conviction as Johnny Depp does Jack Sparrow, but here, the character isn’t charming anymore, and he’s a bit malicious; he’s no longer a silly man-child, just manic and unlikable. Stu, apparently, was given the proper amount of self-confidence by the end of the first film to pull any woman he wants, so he gets the picture-perfect Lauren, only to succumb to the same mess he did in the first film, almost to the letter. Instead of a good man in a bad situation, Stu just becomes a badly composed version of himself.
The Hangover Part II is well directed, just poorly written. Even the best-looking buildings can be poorly constructed. The absurdity and likability of the characters, most of them anyway, is compromised solely for eliciting laughs, and the situations aren’t unique or amusing anymore. It’s always sad watching a film you love become a bastardized version of itself for a paycheck. Of course, there’s always the caveat – The Hangover made me love these characters, and that was a character piece. I still do love the characters, and still do care about them, and I will see a third one, if it’s made, which it almost assuredly will be. I only hope that someone does something about Part II‘s horrendous screenplay. They need to return the characters back to their roots. Maybe Phil gets divorced, and the boys try to cheer him up? I’d see that. I heard rumors of a Mr. Chow spin-off, but I don’t see that working too well. Maybe it’s the way they left his character in this film, but I think that would just be a waste of time. Or, of course, Alan could get married. That’s a comedy in and of itself.