Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 28, 2011)
Back in 2009, The Hangover turned into arguably the year’s biggest surprise hit; an unheralded flick with no stars, it went on to make $277 million and become the most successful “R”-rated comedy of all-time.
Obviously higher expectations came along with 2011’s The Hangover Part II, and it essentially met them. While its $254 million gross didn’t quite match that of its predecessor, it’s still awfully close – and likely ensured Part III.
Although I didn’t actively dislike the first film, I can’t say it did much for me, and I could never quite comprehend its immense popularity. Nonetheless, I figured I’d give the sequel a shot and see if it managed to bring anything new to the table.
Two years after the first flick, we head to another wedding. This time dentist Stu (Ed Helms) plans to marry Lauren (Jamie Chung), and the event will take place in her native Thailand. This means all of Stu’s pals – party-loving Phil (Bradley Cooper), emotionally immature Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and completely forgettable Doug (Justin Bartha) – go overseas as well, and Lauren asks Stu to include her college student brother Teddy (Mason Lee) in the gang’s activities.
After the rehearsal dinner, the guys enjoy a moment around a campfire complete with beer and marshmallows – provided by Alan, which means no good can come from the celebration. Before you know it, the boys – sans Doug, who conveniently disappears due to the character’s utter banality - wake up in Bangkok with intense hangovers and a sense of déjà vu.
Once more, they’ve gotten blotto and done… they don’t know. However, they do know that they now own a chain-smoking Capuchin monkey and are partnered with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the sassy gangster from the first film. Unfortunately, they’ve lost Teddy along the way. We follow their attempts to retrace their steps and find Teddy before Stu’s wedding.
Earlier I mentioned that I wondered if Part II would bring anything new to the Hangover table. While the answer isn’t literally “no”, it’s pretty close, as the sequel follows the original’s template and plot to a startling degree. I probably could’ve taken my synopsis for the first movie and simply made minor alterations.
Scratch that “probably”, as I definitely could’ve done that. To prove this, here’s the original synopsis:
“In Hangover, we follow the aftermath of a bachelor party gone wrong. On the eve of his wedding to Tracy (Sasha Barrese), Doug (Justin Bartha) heads to Las Vegas with his buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). They also bring along Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Tracy’s socially maladjusted brother.
What could go wrong? Everything, essentially. Most of the film works as a detective story and follows the day after the guys’ big night on the town. They attempt to retrace their chaotic steps with one main goal: find Doug, who has gone mysteriously missing.”
Here’s that synopsis modified for Part II:
“In Hangover Part II, we follow the aftermath of a bachelor party gone wrong. On the eve of his wedding to Lauren, Stu heads to Thailand with his buddies Phil, Stu and Alan. They also bring along Teddy, Lauren’s college student brother.
What could go wrong? Everything, essentially. Most of the film works as a detective story and follows the day after the guys’ big night on the town. They attempt to retrace their chaotic steps with one main goal: find Teddy, who has gone mysteriously missing.” The stories are the same; literally only the names and locations have changed.
But even with such intense similarities, I have to admit that Part II manages to find some new twists along the way. I also think that the sequel ended up in a tough spot in terms of its possibilities, as the nature of the first film boxed Part II into a corner. By definition, the second one needed to involve a hangover, so how much could it differ from the first? More than it does, I suspect – there are multiple possibilities for adventures with the three lead characters that don’t involve weddings and missing friends – but I can understand why the filmmakers felt the need to create something that strongly followed the first flick’s template.
While one could argue that Part II essentially remakes the original, this doesn’t automatically turn it into a failure. I don’t know if the series’ fans agree, but I slightly prefer the sequel, as I think the plot similarities actually force it to be more creative in some ways. Sure, the story didn’t give us anything new, but that meant that the folks involved needed a variety of new gags along the way. As much as the plot stays the same, Part II needed to up the ante with its antics.
Which it did, and it did so with more success than I anticipated. As I’ve mentioned, the first movie left me pretty cold, but I took decent entertainment value from Part II. Some of this stemmed from lowered expectations, of course, as I didn’t expect much from the sequel due to my lack of enthusiasm for the original. Nonetheless, I think that the movie still delivers a decent array of gags and comedic situations.
Do any of these reinvent particular wheels? Nope – there’s virtually nothing here that would’ve seemed out of place in the first film, so while the sequel expands to a new setting, the types of jokes remain fairly similar.
So why do these tend to work better for me? Good question – and one I’m not sure I can answer. To be honest, I think it’s just a general vibe more than anything else. I think all involved knew that audiences would dig what they did and gave us a product with a looser feel. Again, it’s a minor difference, as you won’t find a whole lot to differentiate the two movies, but I think the sequel just seems a bit jazzier.
On the other hand, I must admit parts of it feel more contrived. No, the original didn’t exactly give us a believable true-life story, but the sequel stretches credulity even more, mainly due to the way it uses its setting. It works so hard to force the characters into Thailand and all its situations that we don’t completely buy the choices.
Nonetheless, the decisions provoke enough laughs that we don’t care all that much. I don’t think the movie’s a total hoot, but it comes with some amusing bits, mainly thanks to Galifianakis; he was the real star of the original, and his off-beat lines and performance choices continue to add spice to the proceedings.
If you didn’t care for The Hangover, should you expect to love Part II? Probably not – while I’ve expressed some appreciation for the sequel, no one should think that I muster real enthusiasm for it. I think it boasts some entertainment value but won’t claim it ever approaches greatness. Still, I feel it’s at least as good as the original and probably better, so it has merit.