THE HANGOVER PART II: Leave all cinematic judgment behind for sequel laughs

The wolfpack is are back for more laughs and box office looting as THE HANGOVER PART II finds the trio blacked out and bewildered in Bangkok this time, so expect exactly more of the same thing in this sequel. That is either a warning to those wanting a fresh exploration of the lost weekend concept, or an invitation to leave all judgment behind and enjoy some gut-busting laughs. Critics be damned, audiences will line up for more man-mayhem and less politically correct humor than before. Forget the suffix Part II — this is outrageous behavior squared.

(L-r) ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan, BRADLEY COOPER as Phil and ED HELMS as Stu in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' comedy "THE HANGOVER PART II," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

This second HANGOVER may well define the “brainless summer comedy” of 2011, and director Todd Phillips makes absolutely no apologies for the result. If anything, he and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong crank the ridiculously raunchy dial to 11 in their attempt to shock and awe their devoted core audience who are ravenous for a second helping. This sequel is not only self-aware of its formula-repeating mission, the main characters nakedly embrace their illogical return to chaos as a helpful tool to aid them in solving the mystery behind their missing hours the day before Stu’s wedding. The boys (and filmmakers) demand from viewers the same acceptance of this contrived fate, or at least they expect audiences not to care and just join them for another wild ride of drunken and drugged dismay.

Stu (Ed Helms) takes the lead in this misadventure as he asks his buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zack Galifianakis) to fly with him to Thailand for his wedding to newcomer Lauren. Alan has been pathetically heartbroken since he heard of Stu’s wedding and was not (yet) invited to join the party, oblivious to the problems he caused the first time around. In fact, Alan has embraced the lack-of-memories from their Vegas fiasco as a highlight in his sheltered life, emblazoning the walls of his bedroom with damning photo evidence and artifacts from their Sin City escapades. Now happily married Doug (Justin Bartha in a glorified cameo) pressures Stu into adding Alan to his wedding party, despite Stu’s fears that the bearded baby-man will spoil his chances to salvage his life by marrying Lauren.

The groom-to-be needs all the back up he can enlist as Lauren’s father detests Stu, holding the bumbling dentist up to the impossible ideal standard of his own son Teddy (Mason Lee), a promising cello prodigy and future surgeon. Of course, what begins as a harmless beer toast on the beach of the wedding resort leads to another horrifying wake-up call for the trio, this time regaining consciousness (of a sort) in a seedy Bangkok hovel to find a severed finger, a chattering monkey and a passed-out Mr. Chow in their midst. As the flamboyant Asian crime boss, Ken Jeong pushes, folds, spindles and mutilates the envelope of comedic excess and good taste, which is de rigueur for his co-starring return. If the calamity of Stu’s predicament up to this point weren’t over the top, Chow’s diabolic involvement leaves any semblance of propriety and exclusion of male frontal nudity behind. No doubt HANGOVER devotees will accept nothing less, so Phillips and team deliver heaping shovelfuls of debauchery through much of the film’s 102 minutes.

L-r) KEN JEONG as Mr. Chow, ED HELMS as Stu, ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan and BRADLEY COOPER as Phil in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' comedy "THE HANGOVER PART II," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

There is little point in recapping or analyzing Stu, Phil and Alan’s escapades, and merely cataloging them would unfairly spoil what laughs are to be had confronting their wildly inappropriate antics. Strap in for a plethora of monkey-based humor, sight gags and penis sightings among other shock-for-yuks ammunition targeting your lower brain stem. Yet there are truly few surprises found in the film, as attentive viewers familiar with the 2009 progenitor can literally tick off a list of old plot points this sequel script duplicates brazenly as storytelling landmarks. Are Phillips and cohorts relying on fans to remember the shameless belly laughs from the first movie when the characters cue them to recall such connections two years later? No doubt, though given how some viewers began tittering in their seats when one of these familiar plot notes was struck, the results only serve to support the usefulness of such Xeroxed repetitions.

The film’s four principal actors are the main draw in PART II, and Helms, Cooper, Galifianakis and Jeong reliably fulfill their duties to elicit gross-out guffaws and head-shaking affronts to all things civilized as such a sequel demands. While he’s good for a number of laugh out loud moments, Zack’s cerebrally straight-jacked Alan proves a bit hamstrung in his comedic efforts as his character is the most burdened by improbable plot points. Helms remains mostly sympathetic throughout, and his ultimate resolution of in-law complications is enjoyable if not entirely predictable. Cooper’s Phil plays it mostly straight for his bookend comedic foils, often substituting character-impelled angst and frustration in attempts to raise dramatic stakes in the story. The success of his efforts remains debatable, but his participation in this triple play formula is nonetheless essential as Stu and Alan on their own would cancel each other out like colliding matter and anti-matter.

The supporting cast proves more disappointing, as Mason Lee’s Teddy never grows beyond a grinning plot functionary who disappears and returns from the main action solely at the writers’ convenience. As Stu’s fiancee, Jamie Chung is charming and easy on the eyes, but of course her character remains the sideline salvation of Stu’s disaster-prone bachelor night. Jeffrey Tambor returns ever so briefly and pointlessly as Alan’s father Sid, and Paul Giamatti’s supposed menace Kingsley plays out as nothing more than an high-profile guest star appearance. Ex-boxer Mike Tyson’s touted cameo provides expected value at the right time in the plot as one of the least surprising and most enjoyable laughs offered.

THE HANGOVER PART II serves up much more of the same from before, which may be the entire plan behind Warner Brothers’ undeniable sequel. Just like the events of Stu, Phil and Alan’s mind-wiping shenanigans in Bangkok, viewers may not respect this film in the morning but many will revel in the delirious experience while it lasts. This caustic comedy is all about living and laughing in the moment, and you’re either ready to ride out its excesses along the way or jump ship when too much is more than enough. FilmEdge predicts the former outcome at box offices starting this weekend as this most immature of adult comedies takes counterprogramming command of the early summer box office. We give THE HANGOVER PART II a solid 3 stars for being nothing more or less than its raucous sequel self, strong on big laughs and light on any cinematic nutritional value.

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