Bradley Cooper, left, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms star in "The… (Warner Bros. Pictures )
Oh, what a headache-inducing, unapologetic money grab we have in "The Hangover Part II." By the time Bradley Cooper's Phil says, "You know the drill," and the guys start emptying their pockets in search of clues to the latest debacle, you'll be more inclined to groan than giggle.
But then this sequel is about the ching, ching, not the comic arts. Me, I'm left with morning-after regrets. Lost is the fresh, perverse, painfully politically incorrect R-rated pleasure that came when "The Hangover" ate up the summer of 2009. Even the filmmakers signal a rehash is in the offing with the action kicked off by yet another fateful phone call bearing the — "Oops, we did it again" — bad news.
The same wrecking crew is in place with the core culprits — Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) — on tap for another drug-and-alcohol-induced blackout with a new missing person, an old nemesis resurfacing and another wedding in jeopardy. Justin Bartha's Doug, who was the misplaced groom the last time out, shows up briefly then remains poolside while his buddies go wild and crazy in Bangkok.
Todd Phillips, who directed the first and has a playbook stuffed with other whacked-out comedies, "Old School" and "Due Date" among them, is another returning player. He keeps the chaos churning, squeezing the funny out of what he can and delivering some horribly hilarious moments that you may feel a need to apologize for laughing at later. Phillips collaborated with Craig Mazin ("Scary Movie 3 & 4" and more) and Scot Armstrong ("Old School" and others) to write the latest round of overindulgence. But this screenplay is far less inventive than the original written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, though the two plots are so intertwined that if you didn't see the first, you won't get half of the jokes in the sequel.
Here's the current setup. It's two years later and the tooth that naughty/nice/nerdy dentist Stu pulled in Vegas is fixed, his wedding-chapel marriage to the stripper has been annulled and his nasty L.A. girlfriend ditched. He is about to marry his new squeeze, a sweetheart named Lauren (Jamie Chung). The setting is Thailand, inconvenient for everyone, but hey, it's her ancestral home and it's what the parents want. Given the history, a bachelor party has been nixed in favor of a pancake brunch. But peer pressure has pushed Stu to invite prime hangover instigator Alan (Galifianakis), whose bedroom is a shrine to the crimes and misdemeanors of Vegas.
Soon they're all checking into a posh Thai beach resort, determined to make this wedding as uneventful as possible. But then things happen, as they do anytime Alan is involved, with the wolf pack waking up in a seedy Bangkok hotel with a monkey, a severed body part in the ice bucket, Stu defaced yet again and Mr. Chow back in their business (Ken Jeong, still naked and screaming). It gets worse; apparently, sometime during the night the bride's younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) went missing. They've got to find Teddy, fix a bunch of stuff and make it back for the wedding.
Though Helms is still in charge of slapstick, Galifianakis is the critical comic glue — he wears funny like an old T-shirt, making it equally comfortable and uncomfortable to watch him, depending on the needs of the scene. Cooper is considered the alpha dog, I guess because he's always at the head of the pack as they unravel the havoc that's been wreaked. But actually his character's central purpose seems to be calling in disaster play-by-plays to the wedding party, which he usually does with his shirt unbuttoned, so maybe he's meant to be eye candy too.
One of the more brilliant strokes in keeping the laugh factor high in "The Hangover" was its mix of crazy strangers the guys encounter in trying to reconstruct what happened (cops, kids and Tasers, anyone?). The filmmakers have gone back to that well too, though not nearly as successfully. Mike Tyson returns, but his cameo just doesn't have the same punch (so to speak). There's a kinky monkey (Crystal) who has his/her moments, but nothing as satisfying as the baby or the tiger or the chicken that vexed in Vegas. There is a nice bit of barely there with Paul Giamatti popping up as a heavy. The girls, per usual, are non-essential frills.
The good news is that with three of the four guys married off and Alan not really knot-tying material, there is no need for more hangovers. Unless of course the accountants have a vote.