Follow-up a hollow echo of original film

With a movie like The Hangover, any follow up would feel forced. The original was so twisted, so hilarious and so extremely out there that putting the four leads through the same situation would raise questions. But director Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the sequel, managed to prevent things from being completely repetitive.

Dazed and confused · Phil (Bradley Cooper, left) attempts to track down a missing friend, who the group just might have lost to Bangkok. - Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The result is a film that, although not as good as the first installment, offers some humor instead of failing miserably.

Two years after the four members of the “Wolfpack,” as Alan (Zach Galifinakis) calls them, had a wild weekend in Las Vegas, they head to Thailand for Stu’s (Ed Helms) wedding. Despite their best efforts to stay sober, things go awry and they find themselves once again waking up with no memory, and with Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) missing.

What follows is a familiar tale, with the guys once again trying to piece together what happened the night before. How that reconstruction is handled is a mixed success. On one hand, the film admirably acknowledges they’ve been through this sort of scenario before, and they try to use their past experiences to help solve the problem.

But on the other, The Hangover Part II seems afraid to stray from elements of the original that were successful.

The film shoehorns the crazed, drugged-up criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) into the adventures, and unlike other times the sequel recalls its predecessor, Chow’s appearances feel unnatural rather than effective.

The true saving grace of the film is how tonally different it is from the first. Whereas The Hangover reviled in the glitz and excess of Las Vegas, Part II explores the wealth disparity and rough edges of Bangkok.

Beyond setting and visuals, the tonal shift in the sequel extends to the music. Instead of the boastful, decadent hip-hop that permeated the first installment, this one features more in the way of slow tunes and country music, including a very fitting Johnny Cash song. Coupled with the squalor the guys awaken to, and the exhausted, heat-driven day they try to get through, the soundtrack is a highlight.

In fact, one thing that really sets both films apart from a standard comedy film is how good they both look. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher captured not only the beautiful coastlines of Thailand but also the rougher edges of the inner slums of Bangkok.

And although the script is stuck in a rut of dealing with the events of the first film, the cast is still a strong point.

Alan aside, the leads feel like regular people caught up in strange situations, making the moments all the more surreal. The banter between the two less zany members of the trio showcases some of the film’s best dialogue, most notably in an early scene between Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu before things go downhill for them in Thailand.

But in some cases the characters seem off.

Alan’s oddities are played up more, and given more screen time, turning him from the twisted dark horse of the Wolfpack to the overdone crazy person. He still has his funny moments, but it goes too far. Similarly, Chow becomes a kind of live action cartoon character.

The film also suffers from the noticeable underrepresentation of potentially strong supporting characters. Teddy isn’t allowed to develop primarily because he’s missing for the bulk of the running time, but Doug (Justin Bartha) is also drastically underused despite not being the one who vanishes this time around.

It feels cheap to compare The Hangover Part II to its predecessor, but when Phillips puts so much stock in sticking to the tried-and-true formula of the original, it’s impossible not to. And there lies the film’s main fault: It can’t fully leave the past behind. When it tries to be its own movie, it works. When it plays up the surreal elements, it fails.

Ultimately, The Hangover Part II manages to justify its being produced but finds itself struggling to avoid rehashing the same plot.

The cast is still fun the second time around, and the film is masterfully made, both visually and musically, but the script sinks it. It is not a comedy classic like the original, but it is a worthwhile watch for any die-hard fans of the Wolfpack.