The Hangover Part II does absolutely nothing to exceed the expectations built by The Hangover. Like a tired traveller dusting off an old map, the director, Todd Phillips, reuses the older movie's screenplay, not so much charting a new route as creating small diversions to enliven the same journey. This film, too, begins with preparations for a wedding and ends with the actual wedding. Here, too, these preparations are inconvenienced by a call from Phil (Bradley Cooper), who has woken up miles away, unable to recall the events of the previous night.
“It happened again,” he wails, assuring us that what we seek is exactly what we'll get. (Elsewhere, he intones, “You know the drill.” Yes, we do indeed.) Accordingly, Stu (Ed Helms) wakes up, once again, with a disfigurement (a tattoo here, a broken tooth earlier) and in the vicinity of a wild animal (a monkey here, a tiger there), as a companion (Mason Lee's Teddy replaces Justin Bartha's Doug) is revealed to be missing.
The wrong-man-retrieval scenario, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) springing from an enclosed space and affixing himself to the nearest bystander like the creature from Alien, the shot of Phil and Stu and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) in a descending elevator, posing like models in an advertisement for so-bad-it's-cool behaviour — it's all here. The reverence to the original is so scrupulous as to make you imagine brow-knitted students of art in front of the work of masters, tracing the same curves and dipping into the same colours.
The one thing the sequel does better is attending to its premise of who we really are under the surface. Stu finally recognises that beneath that boring dentist is a demon straining at the leash of propriety, slave to wild behaviour and wilder sex. The Hangover Part II is alert in a way its predecessor never was to the question of what an individual is like when his id takes over.
But subtext isn't why The Hangover was such a success. It was a canny conflation of the ultimate urban nightmare and the ultimate gross-outs — After Hours as reimagined by the Farrelly brothers. And there was Galifianakis, toting around the persona of a sage of vast wisdom residing in the body of an idiot-child raised on a diet of too much pizza.
Underwhelmed by the comedian in the first film — and alarmed by the gales of laughter from the people around me who seemed to be tickled by his very presence, even before he uttered a word — I concluded that his shtick was directed at that special kind of antenna we're equipped with at birth, depending on the tuning of which we find ourselves responding, the way others simply don't, to jazz or Rothko paintings or Akshay Kumar comedies. My antenna, apparently, just wasn't picking up his signals.
But I must be warming up to him, for this time around I was in on the jokes. When he remarks that his uncle once saw an albino polar bear, Stu, never one to miss the opportunity to weigh down a flight of fantasy with the dull voice of reason, observes that polar bears are already white. Alan registers this wisdom and replies, after a pause, “This one was black.” There's no explaining why this is funny (is it the beats in that pause? Is it the deadpan delivery? Is it just the antenna finally swivelling around?) — it just is. This time, too, Stu strums his guitar and sings a spoofy song, to the tune of Billy Joel's Allentown — and it's entirely appropriate. It really is Alantown.
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Storyline: Three friends scramble to recover their lives by reconstructing a forgotten night
Bottomline: More of the same, but slightly better