Pretty soon there will be folk remedies for alleviating the nausea induced by The Hangover Part II, but just as the characters wish they’d never cracked open that first beer you’ll be better off staying home and avoiding this mess in the first place.
This sequel, or rather reiteration, starts to go wrong with its title. It’s supposed to be like The Godfather, Part II. Get it? No? Why? Do you think jokes should be funny or something?
Like the first movie, this one starts out (this time in Bangkok) with the principals dejected and having lost track of a friend somewhere out there in Partytown. As in the first movie, they spend a lot of time with a wild animal (a monkey instead of a tiger). Alan, the Zach Galifianakis character, again drugs his supposed friends. The mild-mannered dentist Stu (Ed Helms) again hooks up with a prostitute and is again disfigured (this time with a facial tattoo instead of by losing a tooth). There is a rooftop scene, a confrontation with the wacky Chinese guy Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), a cameo by Mike Tyson, and a mystery solved in the lamest possible way (by the fellas looking right back where they started). “I can’t believe this is happening again,” says Stu. Neither can those of us who are watching. The effect is exactly that of being at a dinner party where someone cracks a joke, it gets a big laugh, and then someone else does the exact same gag to a reaction of utter silence.
The story, which sounds like a couple of screenwriters wrote it on cocktail napkins between innings at a sports bar, involves this time the impending wedding of dentist Stu, who is marrying a Thai-American girl who insists on having the nuptials in her parents’ homeland, at a beautiful island resort. Her little brother Teddy (Mason Lee), a 16-year-old student, goes out on the beach for a drink with Stu, Alan, and Phil (Bradley Cooper), and the next thing we know the three principal characters are waking up with a hangover in a dumpy hotel room in the seedy metropolis of Bangkok, far from the resort. Teddy has gone missing, but not all of him: his severed finger is being licked by a monkey in the hotel room.
The original film, while funny, was not actually a classic: What made it such a hit was the fond relationship Americans have with Las Vegas as their always-available font of debauchery. Moving the action to Thailand, a country most of us have no particular attachment to, immediately waters down the drink, and as the movie can’t stop repeating ideas its other flaws become very obvious.
First and foremost is the Galifianakis problem: He is an odd-looking guy, true, but that is the limit of his appeal. His habit of scowling a little and saying dumb things in a deadpan voice (he keeps calling the country he is in “Thighland”) is not getting any more interesting as his career goes on. So lost is he for a joke that he is at all times styled in deliberately ridiculous ways: We see him wearing a scarf with a safari suit at the beginning; later he’ll be seen with a shaved head (but a full beard) with a big funny straw hat and a labrador T-shirt. If he were genuinely funny, he wouldn’t need the clown clothes.
And Alan is the funny one of the group: the ever-flustered Stu and the cool leader Phil are mainly supposed to react to the wackiness of others. The movie never knows what to do with Phil, who at one point gets shot (this is funny?). As for Stu, who endures a gross-out scene involving a hermaphrodite prostitute and is also insulted viciously by the father of the bride at a banquet scene, he seems like such a decent guy that you’re just sorry for him. It’s hard to laugh when you’re feeling pity. It’s also hard to laugh at the idea of a guy who gets his finger cut off with a carving knife. Just because something is “outrageous” doesn’t mean it’s comical.
When the movie ends in almost exactly the same way as the original (this time with not one but two covers of 80s pop hits), you’ll know what’s coming next: Snapshots of all the strange things that happened during the night of partying. As with everything else about this movie, it just isn’t as funny in rerun mode. The Hangover Part II is so desperate to bring back the wild times that it winds up being kind of sad — like watching a washed-up athlete who doesn’t realize the magic is gone.