The general critical consensus leading up to the release of The Hangover Part II is nearly identical to the mass reaction that met Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. That being, it’s the exact same movie only in a different location. Critics decry that the filmmakers had no idea how to twist or turn a once-clever inspiration so they made the collective choice to simply regurgitate the original and make a few more bucks off of a brand name. I say, not so fast. Yes, The Hangover Part II copies much of the original plot but I think it would be unkind to dismiss this movie as a banal retread.
First of all, it’s plausible. I could believe that four guys would get stupid drunk to the point of total memory wipe more than once. Think about it, it’s probably happening somewhere right now. Plus, given the twist in location, there’s enough that could logically happen that it wouldn’t turn out to be the same movie. That’s where the movie succeeds.
The plot moves from Vegas to Bangkok, and that’s probably for the best. Vegas is a hotbed of sin and vice but it is so regulated and organized until much of the potential raunch is squeezed out. Bankok doesn’t have that problem and that’s what gives The Hangover Part II much of its off-the-chain zeal.
Two years later The Wolfpack is headed to Thailand. Stu (Ed Helms again), the dork-ish dentist has split from his trashy hate-spewing girlfriend and is about to marry a beautiful, good-hearted girl named Lauren (Jamie Chung). Not wanting a repeat of the Vegas fiasco, Stu resists a bachelor party and instead opts for a bachelor brunch instead – it’s indoors and it’s less prone to unpredictable shenanigans. He wants no part of the Wolfpack mentality and even resists the presence of Alan (Zach Galifianakis, again) just to be safe. But, of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if things went as planned.
Unwisely, Stu agrees to a campfire toast on the beach with buddies Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper, again), Doug (Justin Bartha, again), and Lauren’s studious teenage brother Teddy (Mason Lee) who is Lauren’s younger brother and the pride of the family. The toast seems reasonable enough since the beer was sealed but by sunlight there’s another mind-erased puzzle to solve. The guys wake up in a filthy hotel room fit for the killer in Saw. Alan’s head is shaved; there’s a Capuchin monkey smoking cigarettes; There is a severed finger in a bowl; and Stu is sporting a Mike Tyson-style Maori tattoo over his left eye. Oh yeah, and Teddy is missing.
The rest of the movie does follow the same pattern as The Hangover as the guys try and work backwards to figure out the events of the previous night so they can locate Teddy and get Stu to the wedding on time. What makes this adventure different is that without the safer confines of Vegas, anything is possible and the movie becomes a more competent thriller than a successful comedy – that’s actually a good thing. Even still, it is refreshing is that Todd Philips doesn’t engineer gags, but plays the laughs out according to the plotting – the movie doesn’t aim for laughs, it gets there through the progression of the story.
The switch in location is an asset. Within the squalid backwater of the Bankok ghettos, the guys are completely out of their element. They encounter ass-kicking monks; Russian mobsters; drug dealers; tranny-hookers; car chases; boat races; And a bigger role for Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, again) who has all the information about the night before but is out of commission before he can give the guys some need to know information.
The characters this time seem a little more settled-in, but they’re no less clueless. Their funnier because they’ve found themselves in a situation that should never have been repeated. Bradley Cooper, the group’s apparent voice of sanity is a walking irony in that he’s the one who essentially got them into this mess in the second place. Helms plays Stu with a great deal of vulnerability. And Galifianakis? I complained last time that his character’s personality seemed so off-kilter that you’re not sure if he’s suffering a mental disorder or maybe stepped in from a cartoon. I’m still not sure. He’s given less to do here and that may be to the film’s credit. The situation in Bankok is so bizarre that his goofy shenanigans seem like insult to injury.
I think the word that follows The Hangover Part II is likely to be “underrated.” This is not a carbon copy of the original save for the premise. Philips has fun re-engineering some of the plot points but, unlike Home Alone 2, we don’t feel that we’re being manipulated into seeing the same movie. Some may disagree. I don’t think this is a better movie, but I think it’s a much different movie that shifts locations but allows the characters to play in that location according to its rules. It’s a bigger and much more dangerous picture because of this. It’s not a better movie, but it plays much less predictable than early reviews might indicate. I dunno, maybe it’s me. Maybe I was just up for a second go-around. Maybe I’m intrigued by the mystery. Maybe I’m just fascinated by whoever gave the monkey his own Rolling Stones jacket.