Silver Screen: The Hangover Part II **1/2
Could there be a more non-essential, implausible sequel than a complete retread of The Hangover? Perhaps not since Catherine O'Hara and John Heard somehow managed to lose Macaulay Culkin during a second Christmas vacation in Home Alone II: Lost in New York has a fun one-off premise been repeated in such a shamelessly unlikely way.
And yet that's exactly what happens when the hapless party trio reunites for Hangover II: Lost in Bangkok (okay, I added the subtitle). Once again, somebody is getting married. Once again chaotic man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) dopes the group, sending them into a frenzied binge they cannot remember, forcing them to retrace their steps to relocate a lost comrade and keep the wedding on track.
This time around, repressed dentist Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married to a beautiful Thai girl (Jamie Chung) whose controlling father doesn't approve. Stu agrees to stage the wedding in Thailand to appease him, which is just the excuse necessary to get him, the amoral Phil (poster boy for self-assurance Bradley Cooper), and party-crasher Alan back together to get accidentally hammered.
The bland Doug (Justin Bartha), who spent the vast majority of the first film trapped on a rooftop, is back, but he's stranded again-- this time with his wife (Sasha Barrese), who fields the frantic phone calls from the fellas because, well, she did that in the last movie, too. Since her now-husband is accounted for, the role of M.I.A. party bro goes to Stu's future brother-in-law (Mason Lee), a charming but naï ve prodigy.
That's only one of the many swaps director Todd Phillips makes in Hangover II: Galifianakis gets a monkey instead of a baby, Stu gets a tattoo in place of a loose tooth, a freezer is swapped out for a car trunk in a repeat of the exact same sight gag.
By the time the sequel solves its puzzle in the same fashion as the first and then hits a couple more familiar beats on the way to the (very funny) photo montage during the credits, it's hard to think of Hangover II as anything other than a complete cash-in. The only thing surprising about Hangover II is that it wasn't filmed in 3D to raise the ticket prices. ("It's like Bradley Cooper's smarminess is coming right out of the screen!")
Which is a shame, because the movie has its share of very funny moments. The best scenes seem to be the rougher-around-the-edges moments of improv: Phil chastising Stu during a dental visit, Galifianakis and his monkey goofing with some locals on a bus. A little more often than it should, the movie goes broad, although that sometimes does pay off, as in the nifty, lewd payoff to a strip-club visit. The performers are all more than capable, especially Galifianakis, who once again gets the majority of the laughs. It's a perfectly passable summer comedy.
But whenever an individual scene or exchange starts gathering some comic momentum, the plot shifts toward yet another awfully familiar turn. Not only is any real sense of surprise squandered, but filmmakers-- obnoxiously so--sometimes seem as if they are sitting next to you in a seat, elbowing you in the ribs and saying, "Remember that, huh? Like in the last one!" In fact, on multiple occasions, characters express their disbelief that this whole crazy scenario is playing out again. Yeah, well, we're with you, guys.
The real shame of it is, these actors have pretty well-established niches, and they fill them well. Put the three guys together on screen and they'll be funny, probably in pretty much the same way. So why not come up with a zany new premise and a new set of Galifianakis/Helms/Cooper-types and let them be funny in situations that manage to be organic and unpredictable, rather than trying to inject some energy into going through the motions?
There's pretty much no way to answer that question without mentioning money.