Most sequels are born of good box office rather than good ideas — if you build it, and they come, you simply must build another one — but it's hard to imagine a more calculating, creatively bankrupt piece of real estate than The Hangover Part II. Trade out Las Vegas for Bangkok, a tiger for a monkey, a lactating hooker for a trannie stripper, a missing tooth for a face tattoo, and you've got Todd Phillips' rote, dispiriting replica of his own surprise comedy smash.
Last time, it was bland bro Doug (Justin Bartha) who got lost on a Vegas rooftop the morning of his own wedding, and now it's straight man Stu (Ed Helms) who gets derailed the Friday before his destination nuptials in Thailand. Stu tries to avoid the inevitable, but once pretty boy Phil (Bradley Cooper) cajoles him into a late-night beer by the bonfire, and man-child moron Alan (Zach Galifianakis) laces the marshmallows with roofies (again), it's blackout time. When they awake, Alan has been shaved bald, Stu is adorned with the aforementioned Tyson tattoo, and there's a denim-vested monkey chain-smoking and bouncing around a grim Bangkok hotel room.
Doug's not missing — he's actually resting back at the resort, safely out of harm's, and the plot's, way — but Stu's soon-to-be brother-in-law, Teddy (Mason Lee), an underage, overachieving teen prodigy, certainly is. Phil marshals the trio to action, which leads to whiplash-inducing discoveries and shittier snafus, involving everything from gunplay to inadvertent sodomy. Paul Giamatti shows up as a bug-eyed heavy, as does the tiny-peckered, gansta-cocky Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) — a repeat of his aggressively irritating, one-man, 21st-century chopsocky minstrel show. "Bangkok has him now," declares a glowering tattoo artist (Nick Cassavetes) about lost Teddy. "And she'll never let him go." She will, of course, but not before the trio proves worthy of her seedy charms.
Boffo BO or no, what's surprising about Roman Numeral Two is how thoroughly unfunny it is. It's so committed to being exactly what we expect it to be, and to thrusting harder against the envelope of bad taste, that it fails in this most basic sense. Though overrated and ultimately more clever than inventive, the best thing about The Hangover was its double-backed, amnesiatic script, which recast a men-behaving-badly yarn as a madcap mystery-adventure. Yet Part II fatally honors the original's premise like it's a sacred text, retracing idiotic high jinks like they're Stations of the Cross, forsaking its spirit of danger and giddy unpredictability in favor of a vainglorious victory lap (tellingly, original screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore had nothing to do with the sequel, which Phillips penned with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong). So the very thing that made the first film feel fresh turns the sequel stale. If you played them side by side, I swear Ed Helms' horrified howls would harmonize.
Phillips again shoots his dude comedy as if it were a widescreen epic, but this time instead of a welcome expression, for a Hollywood comedy, of aesthetic proficiency, he's putting fancy clothes on a mewling, incontinent infant. It only gets messier from there, as all energies are focused on going further, harder, uglier. Scarecrow Cooper's cad act worsens into an active courting of our revulsion, blithely tossing off misogynist declarations and racist rejoinders with his wide weasel-grin and sleeve-rolled arms ever akimbo. Tin man Helms works hard to give the film a heart, but his every line reading passes through gated teeth and a character-killing affect filter, while furry lion Galifianakis, asked to shoulder the weight of the funny, turns his inappropriate loner into a full-on, queasy-making misanthrope. Meanwhile, Phillips treats the host city to Uzi fire, General Lee–like car jumps and pig splatter, and piles on the penile sight-gags. "There's a reason they don't call this Bang-cunt," says Stu's bodacious trannie ass-rammer — but if only it were otherwise. Outside of fleeting shots of primping wives and requisite end-credit snapshots of skank-crotch, this is strictly a dude's playground, no Dorothys allowed.
Like any fantasy, The Hangover offered indulgence without consequence — so long as the trio showed up for the wedding, all was forgiven. But Part II actually tries to heroicize regressive partying. "There's a demon in me," says Stu with a speedboat trenched on the lawn behind him...and his skeptical father-in-law finally approves. Which clarifies where Phillips lost the plot and, worse, his comedy. When clowns become kings, the joke's on us.