REVIEW: The Hangover Part II Is a Buddy Movie That's Nobody's Friend
Though critics and other film-pundit types often like to lament the death of movies as a communal experience, box-office evidence shows that plenty of people still like to watch comedies with other people. Todd Phillips The Hangover was one of the biggest hits of summer 2009, and anticipation for The Hangover Part II has been pitched as high as a monkey's scream. In theory, these are the types of movies people want to see in groups; that half-going-crazy feeling is a lot more fun when it's shared.
But The Hangover Part II is just more of the same, and yet less. It follows the same essential pattern as its predecessor, but the ingenious loopiness is gone; the mechanism behind it grinds instead of whirrs. The principal cast is back: This time, it's Ed Helms' straight-arrow dentist Stu who's getting married, dragging all his pals to Thailand, where his fiancée's family lives. Bradley Cooper's Phil is the short-fuse jerk who swears a lot (at one point he uses the "C" word in a diner, a lame shocker that's clearly inserted into the movie only as a cheap jolt), Justin Bartha is the boring one who exists only to absorb and reflect the craziness around him, and Zach Galifianakis' Alan is the malevolent naïf, the thundercloud troublemaker who shuffles through the picture with an air of "Who, me?" aloofness.
He's the one, of course, who causes all the trouble: In the first movie, his surreptitious introduction of certain pharmaceuticals caused a bachelor party to reel out of control, becoming so wild that the next day none of the participants could remember what happened. In Part II, it's the same thing all over again, only this time, he's taken an instant dislike to Stu's fiancée's 17-year-old brother, a superbright, polite future surgeon played by Mason Lee. Alan wants to knock him out so the rest of the gang can enjoy their evening of pre-wedding fun, but the drugs (which have been dusted onto marshmallows) are consumed by the others instead. They awake the next day in a cockroach-infested shack somewhere in Bangkok, with shaven heads and tattooed faces, with a chattering, scolding monkey presiding over the whole affair.
What the hell happened? Wouldn't you like to know. But The Hangover Part II makes it hard to care. The answer involves a cokehead low-life (played, once again, by Ken Jeong), a sly gangster (Paul Giamatti, in a small role), libidinous she-males, and assorted drug-dealing baddies. Meanwhile, Stu is in danger of missing his own wedding, but of course that's incidental: No one really cares.
Where The Hangover was bawdy and seemingly untamed, this sequel is meticulously groomed -- Phillips (who also co-wrote the script, with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) is trying to repeat the chemistry of the first movie instead of building upon it, and his spell doesn't take. And unlike the first picture, The Hangover Part II leaves a bitter aftertaste; there's something distasteful about the way Stu becomes horrified at the idea of having been penetrated by a beautiful Thai pre-op transsexual -- she, on the other hand, had a great time and remembers the whole event fondly. Other gags involve flaccid penises being nibbled by monkeys. Galifianakis' Alan adds unnecessary narration: "When a monkey nibbles on the penis, it's funny in any language."
Actually, it's not. The Hangover Part II is too sharp-edged to be any fun, and even though Galifianakis has the best lines, it's draining to watch him. In the first movie, his character's latent sociopathology was cut with a dash of sweetness: When, in The Hangover, he strutted into the Las Vegas Caesar's Palace and demanded to know if Caesar had actually lived there, his huffiness at the answer revealed a childlike respect for the truth. Here, he has a few dimly glittering lines -- including one about being "a stay-at-home son" -- but mostly, he just runs the material into a deeper rut. The Hangover Part II is a buddy movie designed to be seen with your buddies. But its writing and direction smell more like marketing than actual filmmaking -- after administering the knockout drops, it proceeds to roll you. With friends like this, who needs enemies?