No matter how many times the characters express disbelief over the uncanny re-creation of circumstances they find themselves in, The Hangover Part II still can’t justify essentially reenacting, beat for beat, the plot of its predecessor. Once again best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha), along with Doug’s weird brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis), are having a little harmless fun before one of them gets married (in this case it’s Stu getting married, and the fun is in Thailand, not Las Vegas). Once again Phil, Stu and Alan wake up the next day in an unfamiliar location with no recollection of what happened the previous night, and once again one of their companions (in this case the teenage brother of Stu’s bride-to-be) is missing. Also returning: an exotic animal; a crime lord pursuing our heroes; Stu behaving inappropriately with a stripper; Mike Tyson; Ken Jeong as effeminate Asian gangster Mr. Chow; and poor Bartha getting sidelined by the plot while his co-stars get the big comedic showcases.
There are amusing elements to The Hangover Part II, but they’re all slightly less amusing than the most entertaining parts of the first movie. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips seems terrified of deviating from the formula in anything but the most superficial way, which is especially frustrating given that what made the original Hangover so enjoyable was its unexpected freshness (even if the plot was mostly predictable). Other than the appealingly gritty Bangkok setting, nothing here is fresh or unexpected, and Phillips’ main tactic is to turn up the volume on things that people liked in the first movie—Alan is more self-consciously weird, the sexual humor is more vulgar, the characters’ injuries are graver.
The three leads still have decent chemistry, Phillips gets some comedic mileage out of a chain-smoking monkey, and there are certainly lines that fans will be eager to quote over and over again. Like everything else in the movie, though, they’re not quite as good as they were the first time around.