“I don’t get it. Is this a magic show?”
It’s very weird to go into two films with completely different feelings despite them having almost identical plots and comedic upside. Two years ago, I couldn’t wait to check out The Hangover and see if the hype was real. My contact at Warner Brothers was even compelled to confirm my RSVP for the screening by saying it’s the funniest thing she had seen in years. Somehow—and this is rare—Todd Phillips’s self-proclaimed Star Wars, due to the amount of money he earned from it being his autonomous property, lived up to expectations and more, creating a raunchy romp Hollywood has been carbon copying ever since. The appeal and bank created meant a sequel was inevitable, but could they strike gold twice? Could they really manifest another blackout drunk evening to be pieced together in order to find a lost friend? I thought “no way,” the trailer confirmed this thought, and my time away from the Wolf Pack led to the cultivation of basement expectations. And then it happened, The Hangover Part II began and I realized this wasn’t Vegas. No, when Bangkok grabs hold, it really doesn’t let go.
Exotic, foreign, and a complete wildcard, the setting of this sequel to a bachelor party is the equivalent of Zach Galifianakis’s Alan to the group. It’s a dirty, scary, and insane mystery with only more darkness residing around its shadowy corners. There is no rhyme or reason to either, but both are vacuums consuming anything within close proximity. Stu (Ed Helms) picked Thailand because his bride’s (the beautiful Jamie Chung) family lives there. He didn’t know about what goes on away from their island resort and didn’t even want a bachelor party, contented to live it up at IHOP and make sure nothing resembling what happened before Doug’s (Justin Bartha) nuptials took place. And what he was unaware of with Bangkok, he surely knew about Alan, making the easy and smart decision to leave the manchild off his guest list. But Doug was pestered by his wife—Alan’s sister—and his father-in-law, (I only wish Jeffrey Tambor had more time onscreen), so he, in turn, pestered Stu with the help of Phil (Bradley Cooper). They’ve been through hell and back; it’s not like they’d ever let it happen again. Right?
Boy, do they ever. And some. When the film starts on Phil’s phone call to Doug’s wife, you aren’t quite prepared to find out the details to his ominous reply about whether the damage inflicted would call the wedding off. His answer of, “It’s a little worse than that,” doesn’t come close to the chaos about to occur. They were so careful buying American beer from the resort’s bar, opening the bottles themselves, and partaking in a peaceful bonfire to enjoy the clear sky and gorgeous locale. How the night then becomes a morning of face tattoos, dismembered fingers, shaved heads, Asian penises, and Rolling Stones loving monkeys, neither Alan, Stu, or Phil can remember. With Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) playing an integral role in the festivities and a complete lack of the culture surrounding them, this trio has their work cut out. Stu is alive and semi-well, though, so you may be wondering why they don’t just go back and pretend nothing happened. The hiccup in the plans is the fact that they weren’t a trio to start the evening. No, the bride’s genius, “Doogie Howser”-lite, sixteen-year old brother Teddy (Mason Lee) was along for the ride too.
So, the adventure commences and the boys traverse Bangkok in hopes the city hasn’t swallowed Stu’s soon-to-be father-in-law’s most prized possession. Scouring the hectic streets of Thailand leads them back through the steps they took a few hours previously to a burned-out bar, a tattoo salon with a surly owner, (no disrespect to Nick Cassavetes, but I really hope the unused scene with Liam Neeson in the role is on the DVD and am sad he wasn’t available for the reshoots to stay in), a strip club like no other, and a gangster looking for his money before bullets fly, (Paul Giamatti playing the villainy just the right amount on the wrong side of too much). They can’t return to the wedding party until Teddy is found and the only two breathing souls at their sides who could explain what happened are a mute monk and a drug-dealing monkey. This might not be a huge problem if they were in Vegas, but so far from home without any means of having the upper hand, the search for answers becomes populated with bullets, blood, and transsexuals. Say what you will about the original film, Phillips and company raised the stakes here, delving into a world you aren’t prepared for.
It’s because of this off-the-wall nature and fearlessness to bring the action into much darker territory than stripper with a heart of gold and Mike Tyson shenanigans, (a return appearance from the champ is both unexpected and brilliant), that makes it work. Think the photo slideshow during the credits of the first and turn those horrors into the bulk of the actual runtime; then multiply them to get this entry’s final montage of forbidden images. Cooper and Helms excel with this amplified tension, Jeong proves worthy of extended participation, and Lee gives a perfect portrayal of sheltered innocence begging for a night out with the worst role models a kid of sixteen could have. The weak link is Galifianakis—despite the fact so many will probably say he’s the best part. I loved him in the first because he was reined in, but his introduction here was excruciating, unbridled Zach. The subtle facial expressions and well-timed quips arrive as the film moves along, though, so he isn’t completely lost, but pairing him with the unfortunate reality that this is the exact same film as before—a harder-R rating to differentiate them—and The Hangover Part II doesn’t quite equal its predecessor. But damn does it come close.
 (L-R) BRADLEY COOPER as Phil, KEN JEONG as Mr. Chow, ED HELMS as Stu and ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “THE HANGOVER PART II,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 (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. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 Ed Helms star as Stu Price in Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Hangover Part II (2011)