Apparently fresh out of ideas (well, aside from the mystical pilgrimage that is “The Tree of Life,”) Hollywood presents two sequels as new boxoffice fodder this week. Dreamworks’ delightful animated flick “Kung Fu Panda 2” sets the standard for sequels that improve on their original movies. The folks making “The Hangover 2” could learn a few lessons from the Dreamworks team. The next chapter of the movie that was the toast of 2009 fails to recapture the charm that made the first one a success. Instead, it’s guilty of trying too hard to outdo the raunchy shocks of the original without building on the characters that made the movie work.
Since the Wolf Pack barely succeeded in finding Doug (Justin Bartha) in time for his nuptials, things have changed. Stu (Ed Helms), the neurotic dentist, has mysteriously lost his stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold Vegas wife and fallen for Lauren (Jamie Chung). She has roots in Thailand, so everyone decamps for the land of serene beaches and opulent flowers for the wedding.
Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) convince the once-burned Stu to share a beer on the beach in lieu of a bachelor party. Stu, after his tiger-finding, baby-toting, tooth-losing adventure in Vegas, is a bit gun shy about drinks with the guys. This, he figures, is safe enough that even Lauren’s teen brother Teddy (Mason Lee) can participate.
Phil, Alan, and Stu awaken the next morning in a dingy hotel in Bangkok. Alan has a shaved head. Stu has a facial tattoo like Mike Tyson. They have a monkey, but are distinctly lacking in future teen brother-in-laws. Worse, their nemesis from the first movie Mr. Chow (the fearless Ken Jeong) has apparently been their partner in crime. Nobody remembers anything, but they’re pretty sure they’ve found Teddy’s severed finger in a bucket of water.
Thus begins a race across Bangkok to find Teddy which includes, as these things generally do, an elderly monk who has taken a vow of silence, Russian gangsters, a tattoo parlor, a smoking monkey, an anti-Police riot, and plenty of drugs. Unfortunately, it also includes a sojourn at a Bangkok strip club and brothel that goes way over the line, sucking the fun out of the movie and more than earning its R rating. Let’s just say male genitals are the star of the show, and they appear on people on which they shouldn’t. In a world in which it is hard to shock anyone, it does just that. It is, in a word, disgusting.
That’s just the problem with the movie. If you’re one of the millions who liked the first movie, it was because you liked the characters and couldn’t believe their wild, over the top adventure. It’s the tallest of tall tales, the biggest of stories, and it’s all ok because they were drugged and not responsible for their actions. There are tigers, unidentified babies, celebrities, and mistaken identities with gangsters. It gets raunchy, yes, but the guys are basically nice guys out of their element.
In this film, they do things nice guys wouldn’t do, even under the influence of a roofie. Alan, Galifianakis’s character, comes off as more manipulative psychopath than oddly charming man-child. The film doesn’t add any depth to the characters we liked so much before, or even give them new challenges. Instead, it makes us like them less. Stu, after the reveal in the brothel, is positively icky. You kind of want to warn Lauren away.
Plus, the film offers less fun. A monkey is a poor substitute for a tiger in your bathroom. A lost finger feels more serious than a lost tooth, and is never properly resolved. Mike Tyson was a delightful surprise cameo in the original. In this remake, there’s no similar “I can’t believe he did that” cameo with a new star. Tyson returns briefly, singing.
It lacks luster.
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