We start with Phil (Bradley Cooper) making a call just like the last time...there's plenty of 'just like the last time' tied to the film, telling his wife the wedding looks like it's off. We then go back a week earlier, where Phil is getting a free dental exam from his friend Stu (Ed Helms). Stu is getting married to Lauren (Jamie Chung) and her Thai parents insist on having the wedding in Thailand. Stu is for taking Phil and Doug (Justin Bartha) but is dead-set against taking Alan (Zach Galifianakis) because he still is traumatized by his antics in Las Vegas. Under intense pressure from Doug, Stu gives in and invites Alan.
With "the Wolfpack" reunited, they head off to Thailand, this time bringing Teddy (Mason Lee), Lauren's sixteen-year-old brother who is an accomplished cellist and pre-med student at Stanford, all of which is important information. Alan takes an instant dislike to Teddy, suspecting that his "group" has in Teddy an interloper. Once in Thailand, Lauren's father humiliates his future son-in-law at the engagement party and makes it clear he doesn't like Stu. However, Stu has the moral support of Phil, Doug, Teddy, and Alan. They have what I like to call 'that fatal glass of beer'...
Next thing you know, Alan, Phil, and Stu wake up in a squalid hotel room in Bangkok. Alan is bald and Stu has a tattoo on his face. We also have a monkey, a severed finger with a Stanford ring, and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) in the room; it's debatable which of the last two is more disgusting. In short order, Mr. Chow drops dead of a cocaine overdose and the three of them go look for Teddy with only a day or two before they have to make it for Stu's wedding.
From the clues they get, they find the tattoo parlor next to a bar where Wolfpack Deux caused a riot, at the police station instead of Teddy they find a wheelchair-bound Buddhist monk, at his temple a meditation session leads them to another bar where your 'typical Bangkok strippers/hookers' are found: child sex slaves and she-males. In a melee the monkey is grabbed and we learn that Alan is, just like the last time, responsible for getting them into this situation.
A message in Alan's stomach reveals a meeting with an American criminal (Paul Giamatti) who is looking for Chow. Fortunately, Chow is recovered alive, but they need the monkey. We get another twist with the American criminal and, just like the last time, Stu figures it all out before we get another mad rush to get him to the church on time...just like the last time.
I have a theory, close to a Golden Rule of Filmmaking: a franchise has run out of idea when they put the characters in a different setting. This is only one of the reasons Sex & The City 2 was a disaster, and it may explain why The Hangover Part II is also, like SATC 2, such a complete fiasco of a film. It goes beyond watching characters going through the same motions; it is making what was once outrageous but endearing into something vile, ugly, downright vicious.
Each of the Wolfpack sans Doug were rather boorish if not downright evil. Nothing captures the unpleasantness of The Hangover Part II than the character of Alan. I generally avoid comparing a sequel or in this case, basically a remake in all but name, but here, I think it's important. In The Hangover, Alan was odd but endearing: he didn't mean to cause his future brother-in-law and his friends harm. On the contrary, he wanted to enhance their Vegas experience albeit in the worst possible way, but in the end, we liked him because we knew at heart he meant well.
In The Hangover Part II, there was a darkness and anger to Alan that made his actions deliberately cruel, even murderous. Director/co-writer Todd Phillips (along with his fellow scribes Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong) appears oblivious to the fact that one of their central characters was with malice and forethought attempting to basically murder a minor. You can't like someone like that; actually, you shouldn't like someone like that. Alan went from lovable eccentric to downright psychotic, and one can't build a pleasant comedy around a group that appears willing to be with someone who wants to kill a minor. Wanting to kill an adult is something one might get away with metaphorically, but a man who wants to kill a sixteen-year-old because he's jealous of him?
Therein lies the difference between The Hangover and The Hangover Part II: the former had characters who harmed only themselves and where their friendship motivated their actions (good and bad), while in the latter we had self-absorbed, mean-spirited, racist and homophobic characters whose desire to avoid retribution motivated their actions (all bad).
I can draw from many examples of how The Hangover Part II went beyond raunchy to downright vicious. Take Phil's comment on Stu's fiancee, "Solid rack for an Asian" (emphasis mine). Take Phil's comments on the Buddhist monks who won't break their vow of silence to help them, "bald assholes". Both times I'd like to point out Phil said these things to their face. We also have jokes about child sex slaves (at the strip club, the owner asks our trio how young they want them...nice). I'll also say that the cacophony of penises flung in my direction wasn't funny but grotesque.
Moreover, in their efforts to raise the ante as to how outrageous the Wolfpack could be the writers/director/actors went beyond anything that was acceptable and veered into the sadistic territory. I couldn't bring myself to laugh at the idea that a 16-year-old had his finger cut off; that would kill his possibility of playing the cello or performing surgeries or at least cut back on the possibility (no pun intended). No one involved in The Hangover Part II appears to have thought this through.
It's one thing to have Stu pull out his own tooth: he's a grown man. It's another to remove a teenager's finger and ask us to laugh at that. The fact that people in the audience were in stitches over things like this have inspired me to write some Personal Reflections on The Hangover Part II--so disgusted with the film was I.
There isn't much in the way of performances: if you've seen The Hangover, you've seen the performances. One could argue that if you've seen The Hangover, you've seen The Hangover Part II. I won't argue it except you do get some nice shots of the Thai countryside. Of Bangkok, not so much.
The one exception was Galifianakis. The first Hangover had me campaign for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for him. The second has me campaigning for a Worst Supporting Actor nomination for him. Throughout the film Galifianakis had a vicious, self-absorbed aspect to his character that made him dangerous, even evil. I wrote in my notes "I Hate Alan!", because here, he was deranged, psychotic, self-absorbed, anti-social, unstable, certainly a danger to others but far too narcissistic to be a danger to himself.
Now we do have new characters, so let's look at them. Lee's Teddy certainly had to be as insane as the 'adults' around him. In the end, he doesn't seem too upset about having lost his finger. He seems on the contrary, almost happy about his night of debauchery even though he spent most of the film as one of those plot devices to motivate their actions. Chung is like all the women tied to the Wolfpack: completely nonplussed that her fiancee and his friends have made fools of themselves, gotten shot, gotten facial tattoos, and caused her brother to lose a finger; so long as she loves him, I suppose.
I digress to point out Bartha might appear to be the loser in The Hangover Part II since he was not in much of the film: perhaps ten to fifteen minutes at the most of its one hour forty-two minute running time. However, I realize out of everyone Bartha is the clear winner in this mess: not only does he have the least to do with the film but he got an all-expenses paid trip to Thailand out of it.
Nice work if you can get it.
Structurally, The Hangover Part II is exactly like The Hangover right down to the cover band at the closing wedding party. However, as I've stated before, there's a meanness, an ugliness to Part II that makes it such an unpleasant film to see. Unlike the last film, which had logic to it, even if it was a far-fetched one, this one doesn't have them working things out. Instead, we have things just thrown in there because it's expected to be funny. That riot they caused at the bar for example: we never get a good context as to how the monk fit in to all that or how they came to be there.
As a side note, one wonders why they would call Mr. Chow to get them to Bangkok in the first place, or why Stu, Phil or Doug could never make it clear to Alan why it was so dangerous to keep in touch with the fey Asian crimelord. There's really no logic to anything within The Hangover Part II, which for me brings the film down, as if the misogyny, bigotry, homophobia and general sadism didn't do a good job of it already.
Curiously, there's a strange inconsistency within The Hangover Part II. Alan says he made a pact to keep what happened in Las Vegas quiet, but at the same time he has pictures of their debauchery on his walls for anyone to see. Could one my loyal readers reconcile those two points?
Finally, I confess that for a comedy I laughed only once: at a cameo which featured the most appropriate song for The Hangover Part II that I was waiting for it: One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess. I thought that song would play at the closing credits which, once again, feature a series of pictures of the evening's high-jinks.
There is one photo in the montage (the next to the last one I think) that is a parody of one of the most shocking pictures to come out of the Vietnam War. Roger Ebert (whom I consider the Dean of Film Reviewers) was so appalled at this he used the word "desecration" to describe it, an especially strong word which I connect only to performing unspeakable acts inside a place of worship: say, performing human sacrifices at the Temple Mount.
Luckily, Mr. Ebert, Americans are so gleefully ignorant of history that most if not all the members of the audience including, I might add, children under 13, which is an especially sore point with me about taking minors to films like this, wouldn't recognize to what the photo was referring to.
The Hangover Part II was made for one reason only: to part people from their money. I know the audience I saw it with were laughing uncontrollably, thinking everything was hilarious, and I suppose it was good that they got their money's worth. In the end, for me, there's a simple reason why I didn't find The Hangover Part II funny in the slightest: simply put:
I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine.