What’s it called again when you suffer the morning-after consequences of a wild night of extravagent, if debauched, fun? Oh yes, a hangover.
This second night out with the wolf pack of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), suffers from sequelitis, that headache-y uncertainty about exactly what it was that worked the last time and inability to make its premise seem fresh. It feels as stale as the air in the squalid hotel room our heroes find themselves in with no idea of how they got there. But it will still do as a taste of the hair of the dog. The laughs may be fewer and the gasps more “ewww” than “wow,” but there is still some pleasure in seeing those guys suffer.
A couple of years have passed and Stu is about to get married, not to the stripper he wed in Las Vegas in the first movie but to a lovely girl named Lauren (Jamie Chung). As a tribute to her heritage, the wedding is going to take place in Thailand. Stu insists that brunch at IHOP with Phil and Doug (Justin Bartha) is all the bachelor party he wants (and he puts a napkin over his orange juice glass just to make sure no one is slipping him a roofy this time). But Doug persuades Stu to invite his brother-in-law Alan, and they are joined by Lauren’s 16-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), a prodigy who plays cello and is pre-med at Stanford.
Two nights before the wedding, after Lauren’s father insults Stu in a toast, the guys agree to have one drink on the beach before bed. And Stu, Phil, and Alan wake up the next morning, as they did in the first one, with no memory of what happened the night before and a lot of incontrovertible evidence that what did happen was dangerous, probably criminal, and certainly disgusting. Stu’s face bears the Maori tattoo they saw in the last movie on Mike Tyson. There is a severed finger that appears to belong to Teddy, who is missing. In his place is their old nemsis, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). And instead of the last film’s tiger, there is a monkey wearing a Rolling Stones jean jacket.
They have somehow found themselves in Bangkok, and their search for Teddy involves an aged mute monk in a wheelchair, an American tattoo artist, a strip club, Russian drug dealers, some panicked phone calls, a Molotov cocktail, and both human and animal gun shot wounds.
The trick in comedies like this one is to find the sweet spot between the familiar and the surprising and between the shocking and the disturbing. It misses. Some in the audience will be happy to see the structure of the original repeated but most will wish for something new. And the key to comedy is the “almost,” the ability to have it both ways by making sure the chaos is disruptive but not conclusively so. Trashy is good. Tawdry, not so much. And aren’t we a couple of decades past finding humor in homosexual panic?
There are some very funny moments, with a hilarious password joke, Stu’s version of “Alan-town,” and some deliciously weird comments from Galifianakis and Jeong. But it misses the sense of genuine connection between the characters we just saw in “Bridesmaids.” The first one ended with a satisfying sense of lessons learned. This one should end with an intervention.
Parents should know that this film has extremely strong, provocative, and intentionally offensive material including constant very strong language, explicit sexual references and situations, graphic male, female, and trans nudity, drinking, drug use (cocaine), characters in peril and injured, chases, and guns.
Family discussion: Should Stu tell Lauren what happened? Why is watching so many awful things happen to these characters funny? Should there be a third one?
If you like this, try: the first “Hangover” movie and the original “The In-Laws”