The Hangover Part II isn't fun. It's aggressive, and there are moments where the film captures the sense of recklessness it so desperately desires. But the screenplay tries so hard to be dangerous and bad-ass while slavishly aping the original that it isn't fun. Mind you, I laughed a number of times, but the laughs were scattered. Most of the time, I just watched and wondered how director Todd Phillips and company managed to so thoroughly fuck up what seemed to be a sure thing.
The 2009 original introduced four guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha) having a bachelor party in Las Vegas. They go to the rooftop of their hotel to toast the upcoming evening and then ... cut to the next morning, where the men's lavish suite is a wreck, there are things in the place that shouldn't be there, and one person that should be there is missing. The guys can't remember anything after the toast and, to put matters right, they must find out exactly what happened during their wild night.
A great part of the enjoyment of the original came from watching the layers of the onion slowly get peeled away as the guys searched for clarity. We got to share their discoveries, and the film worked as well as a mystery as it did as a comedy. No mystery this time. A different member of the group is getting married. The party is in a different location also known for outrageousness (Bangkok). A different individual is missing when the guys wake up in a fog the next morning. Yada, yada, yada. A few other cast members pop up again, notably Ken Jeong as a squawking criminal.
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis made a big impression individually and collectively the first time around. Alpha male Cooper was agreeably cocky, reminded me of Kevin Costner during his early years (around the time of Fandango). This time he's more abrasive and less charming. Galifianakis was naive, goofy and sweet in the original. He's unrelentingly obnoxious in this installment. Thankfully, Helms is as amusing and likable here as he was the first time around. The moment when he dejectedly ad-libs song lyrics about a drugged-out sexual experience is perhaps the funniest, and certainly the most human, moment in the guys' adventure. Instead of continuing to freak out about the encounter, like characters in R-rated comedies usually do, he recaptures his dignity - a little - by quietly joking about it with his comrades.
The sequel ends like the original, with the unveiling of a series of photographs that reveal everything that happened to the men on the night in question. If The Hangover Part II had been as funny as the photos, it would have been a winner. That is, except for one photo. One of the most memorable photographs of the Vietnam War was Eddie Adams' picture of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan blowing the brains out of Vietcong operative Nguyen Van Lem with his sidearm. Todd Phillips and company elected to include a comic photo reenactment of the image. I don't want to get on my high horse here, because I've made more than my share of tasteless jokes, but I will say this. Its inclusion is mean, and The Hangover Part II suffers from too often being mean where it should have been fun.