Doubling down on the formula that made “The Hangover” the most successful R-rated comedy ever, “Hangover II” leaves no avenue unexplored in its quest to assault sensibilities, breach taboos and send the stomach contents of every spectator heaving in a communal geyser.
The premise is pure déj vu. On the day following a bachelor party for Stu (Ed Helms), he awakens alongside Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) in a decimated hotel room. The men have pounding heads, physical disfigurements of mysterious origin, amnesia about what went on the night before, and no clue where the fourth member of their party has disappeared.
This time what happened in Vegas happens in Thailand and the AWOL friend – Stu’s teenage brother-in-law-to-be – isn’t entirely gone. He left behind his college ring, with his finger still in it. Paraphrasing the line immortalized by Catherine O’Hara in “Home Alone 2,” Phil moans, “It happened again!”
Repeating the structure of the first film beat for beat, writer-director Todd Phillips keeps things fresh by going sleazier and more depraved, a litany of pain and suffering played for laughs. It’s one part comedy to four parts juvenile delinquency.
The chums discover neon-lit shopping districts the Bangkok Tourist Board refuses to publicize. They’re terrorized by underworld types, shot at by motorcycle goons, saddled with a corpse, mocked by the police, beaten by a Buddhist monk, loved up by a showgirl with unexpected attributes, treated with withering scorn by the haughty father of Stu’s fiance, and serenaded by a former heavyweight champ who perpetrates some of the worst singing ever recorded. Their only friend is a chain-smoking capuchin monkey, and tobacco is the least of its oral fixations. As before, the idiots race against time to piece together how their evening went so horribly wrong and how they might repair the damage.
The three stooges get a pinch more time to flesh out their characters. Cooper and Helms have a nice bantering scene early on that hints why the playboy and the dorky dentist bonded as friends. We get a slice or two deeper into Alan’s mental layer cake of hostility, rich-kid entitlement and social ineptitude. As usual, the women’s roles are less than window dressing: They’re scarcely curtain rods.
Shooting on location gives the film an oppressive sense of immediacy. The cast is drooping in the heat, and the scummy backstreets exude an authentic feeling of danger. Cutaways to the bridal party at the seaside honeymoon resort offer us a breather from the big city’s oppressive temperature and humidity.
For my money, the funniest passages in the first film came not from the ostensible stars but from Ken Jeong’s fey, obnoxious gangsta-talking crime lord Mr. Chow. He reprises the role, taking it to wilder reaches of insanity, posing for a photo in the end credits montage that is so appallingly tasteless that it’s nearly genius. It gave me one of the biggest laughs I’ve had in weeks. So, mission accomplished, I guess.