If The Hangover was a boorish blackout fantasy for our binge-drinking age, The Hangover Part II is something like the contents of a fraternity house’s toilet the morning after an insane kegger—namely, regurgitated elements of a more entertaining prior adventure. The Wolfpack is reunited in Todd Phillips’s follow-up to his 2009 hit, traveling to Thailand for the wedding of wimpy dentist Stu (Ed Helms) to Lauren (Jamie Chung), whose father so hates his forthcoming son-in-law that, during a pre-ceremony dinner, he insultingly compares him to watery rice pudding. Having been reluctantly compelled to invite lunatic Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to the nuptials, Stu demands that Phil (Bradley Cooper) not throw him a bachelor’s party. However, after agreeing to have one bonfire Budweiser, Stu and company wake up in a ramshackle Bangkok hotel room to discover—cue impossible suspension of disbelief!—that “it’s happened again,” which in this case means that post-drugging Stu now sports a Mike Tyson-style tribal facial tattoo, a monkey in a Rolling Stones jeans-jacket vest is their new pet, and Lauren’s 16-year-old genius brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), is missing, except for his finger, which Phil finds (Stanford college ring still attached) in a cup of water.
As before, the threesome set out to find their lost friend by piecing together the forgotten events of the night before. And as before, they learn that their wasted escapades involved international criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong)—now one of Alan’s friends, and once more required to leap out of confinement to attack the protagonists—as well as Stu suffering physical mutilation and having a run-in with a prostitute, Alan simulating sex with an unlikely proxy (instead of a baby, it’s a silent monk), and Phil having to call the wedding’s sober participants to let them know that the festivities are in jeopardy. Phillips directs with increased confidence, but in every respect, The Hangover Part II is a cowardly cash-in, devoid of novelty or daring. From the appearance of Bryan Callen (here playing an Arab sex-club owner) to a final-credits photo montage of the crazy antics that have previously been described, the film simply rehashes—to the point that the action’s actual Thailand setting winds up as merely a more exotic variation on Vegas (replete with an oft-repeated ominous-cool tagline: “Bangkok has them now”), albeit one that allows for some tepid gags involving the mentally challenged Alan’s clueless cultural insensitivity.
The pace is zany and male nudity (a source of gross-out humor and terror) is profuse, but the cast’s hysterics, such as Stu’s screeching, prancing reaction to Phil being shot, consistently come off as halfhearted recreations of the last outing’s confused freak-outs. Moreover, given that the series is predicated on bewildering surprises, doling out safe, familiar twists and turns is fundamentally counterproductive. Thus, even though Galifianakis manages a couple of winning random one-liners, The Hangover Part II proves misguided, a fact that extends to its actual story structure, which wrongheadedly focuses far more on its trio’s present-moment circumstances involving drug dealers, shootouts, and Paul Giamatti’s menacing businessman than on deducing their previous evening’s mysterious exploits. At least the first film’s misogyny is MIA, and—aside from a wannabe-shocking gay-panic bit involving Stu and a transsexual—so too is its homophobia, with Phillips, Craig Mazin, and Scot Armstrong’s conservative script making sure to posit its minority- and Asian-related jokes as manifestations of Phil, Stu, and Alan’s eye-rolling stupidity. But it also abandons any attempt to develop or expand on its characters’ hang-ups or group dynamics—a timid give-‘em-what-they-want duplication that becomes this superfluous sequel’s own brand of offensiveness.