Film review: The Hangover Part II

A carbon copy of an unexpected box-office success tries too hard to raise laughs with gross and tasteless humour

• Monkeying about with a formula: The Hangover Part II reunites the cast of the first and has few new 'characters'

The Hangover Part II (15) *

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

SO, ANOTHER hilarious summer movie arrives about a group of friends whose relationships are tested to the max in the run-up to a wedding, proving that, when used properly, the high stress accompanying any impending nuptials can offer a veritable gold mine of gags and gross-out fun. But enough about the forthcoming Bridesmaids – The Hangover Part II is in cinemas now and if its hugely successful 2009 predecessor served up a lot of raucous laughs and guilt-free entertainment, this seems intent on dishing out morning- after-style punishment for all the fun that was had.

Taking the first movie's ingenious fill-in-the-blanks structure and relocating it to Bangkok seems to have been the extent of the creative effort expended upon this needless money-grubbing sequel. Indeed in one of the many signs of just how lazy director and co-writer Todd Phillips has been, he hasn't even made an effort to incorporate Justin Bartha's Doug (the missing groom from the first film) into the action, presumably because this would have involved coming up with an actual character for him to play. Instead, even though he's supposedly part of the self-styled Wolf Pack, he's sidelined once again in order to keep the action focused on the three most irresponsible members of this overgrown gang of adolescent men: Bradley Cooper's smooth-talking Phil, Ed Helms' neurotic dental surgeon Stu and Zach Galifianakis' bearded, borderline psychotic adult baby Alan. With the latter announcing at one point that he "just wants things to stay the same", this is the film's cue to repeat the plot of the first movie by having them lose the one new interloper into their group in Bangkok and then have them spend the rest of the movie trying to locate him.

What follows is pretty much a carbon copy. Thus we have another "in danger-of being wrecked" wedding (Stu's this time), another memory-blanking incident involving narcotics, another missing body (Stu's teenage soon-to-be-brother in law), another spot of embarrassing facial damage, another encounter at a police station, another encounter with a prostitute, another encounter with Ken Jeong's hyperactive coke-snorting gangster Mr Chow, another fake kidnapping subplot, another resolution that gets them out of their predicament in exactly the same way as the first film, and another last minute dash to an about-to-be-cancelled ceremony. The if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it sentiments of this scenario may seem comforting, but in cleaving so closely to the original's plot beats again, the film ensures we're always two or three steps ahead of action.

And given The Hangover Part II relies for laughs on reconstructing what happened to the characters, the sense of familiarity ruins the fundamental gag that made the first film such a success.

In light of all this, it hardly needs to be said that character development is practically non-existent. Only Helm's Stu is allowed to move on a little. The recipient of the worst abuses first time around, the level of degradation he's forced to endure is upped as a way of forcing him to come to terms with the fact that he has a crazy darkside that might actually prevent him from being the bland, insubstantial man his future Thai father-in-law accuses him of resembling during the rehearsal dinner.

Elsewhere, however, Cooper is once again the cool-under-pressure hero, while Galafianakis – so crucial to the gags-to-giggle quotient of the first film – unleashes yet more oddball non-sequiturs, the amusement value of which has been thoroughly diminished thanks to his ubiquitous presence playing variations of this character in other movies since the Hangover broke big.

Unfortunately, the good-natured vibe that allowed this hugely likeable cast to get away with some of their more risqu gags last time has all but disappeared.

There's also a nastier edge to some of the set-pieces, which involve (among other things) one character having unprotected anal sex with a transsexual prostitute, another losing a finger, and some severe animal cruelty perpetrated against a chain-smoking, drug-dealing monkey. The "no harm, no foul" happy ending of the first film is thus no longer in effect, yet still we're supposed to laugh everything off, even the nasty strain of misogyny that reduces all the women that actually feature briefly in the film to polite understanding wives, and those that don't – such as Heather Graham's hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold or Stu's first fiance – to the punchline of a cruel joke or an insult that can't be printed here.

That there are no good jokes in The Hangover Part II is bad enough; that it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth that sours memories of what made the original so endearing is what transforms this from merely being a law-of-diminishing-returns-style disappointment to an actively awful film.

This is one indulgence that's best forgotten.

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