"The Hangover Part II" is exactly what I expected. Even though that means a lot of funny moments, it is also a big disappointment. Having a film meet meager expectations is a decent thing, yet having a film exceed them is really something special. What "The Hangover Part II" unfortunately assumes is that if a formula worked once, it will work again and again.
As with before, a bachelor party goes terribly wrong, and someone important goes missing. This time though, replace Las Vegas with Bangkok, and fill in Stu's (Ed Helms) wedding. Then replace missing Doug (Justin Bartha) with Teddy (Mason Lee), the son of Stu's father-in law, who already hates Stu to begin with. Also replace a missing tooth, baby, and tiger with an accidental face tattoo, a shaved head, and a monkey with shady moral standing. The stakes are bigger, and the city is more dangerous.
A common rule I've learned about writing is that what we don't see is always more powerful than what we see. For some reason, "The Hangover" saga can't seem to pick up on this important lesson. In comedies, what we don't see is funnier than what we do see. "The Hangover Part II" never bothers to leave anything up to the audience's interpretation. Gross out comedy is coming to a point where the only way to gross out the audience is to show them everything. "Animal House" didn't have to actually show Flounder throwing up on Dean Wormer's desk, and yet its hard not to laugh every time.
I believe this over emphasis on gross out humor results from both an over reliance on shock value and excuses to not write a stronger screenplay. The original "Hangover" doesn't have the best writing for a comedy, and it certainly doesn't have the best developed characters, but it worked. The story fits together, the mystery makes sense, and the laughs are earned. The sequel puts more emphasis on shocking the audience rather than making them laugh.
One over-the-top element of the film that works best is Galifianakis's performance. He is given more screen time than in the original and is therefore given more time to make the character even more bizarre than he was before. All of the characters from the first film are used well here, yet many new side characters are eventually forgotten. They are treated as plot devices rather than as actual characters.
I cannot tell whether "The Hangover 2" fails as a comedy or whether it just somehow succeeds at self-awareness. The beginning of the movie is similar enough to the original that it almost seems like parody; director Todd Phillips seems smart enough to understand how unoriginal the whole film is. However, at some point it leaves self-awareness behind and becomes a very unaware Hollywood sequel.
This review cannot end without acknowledging the scenes of hilarity that do exist. Besides most of the lines that come out of Galifianikis's mouth, the monkey makes for a surprisingly great addition to the crew. And to Ken Jeong, your willingness to bare everything qualifies as some form of bravery. I will not even bother to analyze the funniest scenes further, as the best comedy can never be analyzed.
Another redeeming feature is the film's decision to locate the story in Bangkok. The seedy, rapidly expanding city is the perfect place to set a sprawling mystery involving a missing person.
With all of the quibbles to be had about "The Hangover Part II," what can't be forgotten is that the homegrown feel from the first film is now gone. "The Hangover Part II" is a pop comedy. The series is a blockbuster with blockbuster expectations now. If you are looking for a great summer comedy that won't be forgotten soon after leaving the theater, see "Bridesmaids." If you just want something mindless and entertaining to escape reality for a short period, go to "The Hangover Part II." Just don't expect the repeat viewings that made the original such a sensation.