By Richard von Busack
Ken Jeong is a physician as well as a stand-up comedian. If The Hangover Part II could have been healed, he could have done it. The Hangover Part II tries to follow the rules of sequels—exactly the same thing as the 2009 hit, only bigger and broader. And by everything, really everything, including the soulful tune in the middle (this time, a mangling of Billy Joel's "Allentown" aboard a khlong boat). And once again, there’s a final photo montage showing us what actually happened during the blackout.
To witness the wedding of the pitiful dentist Stu (Ed Helms), the ensemble goes to a five-star Thai resort. Once again the hidden drugs kick in; once again, the gang wakes up, hungover and amnesiac, this time in a sleazy Bangkok hotel. Maybe the saddest words in the movie: "I think it happened again."
The script by Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong takes far too much time to explain why Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) got back together in the first place. Why? It’s exposition as useless as explaining why the Three Stooges have to live together. (That is the kind of question you’d see on a studio executive’s note: “Why do Larry, Moe and Curly stay together when all they do is hurt each other?”) The Stooges are the touchstone of this kind of comedy. During the course of the blackout night, Alan got his head shaved, a way to bring out the Curly resemblance.
There’s no place for women in this films. They’re just there to nag into their cell phones. The closest representation of a female point of view comes from the porn star Yasmin Lee, who plays a Patpong Road entertainer. Look at Lee unveiled, and see where the bromance film is headed.
In this sequel, the three men brought along a natural hostage, Teddy, an underaged Stanford pre-med. When the three fools wake up from their wild night, all they find of Teddy is his finger, still wearing the Stanford ring.
Teddy (played by Mason Lee, Ang’s son, and a grass-green actor) has the most underwritten part. And yet he must have represented the most sensitive re-writing in the development of Hangover Part II. After all, he’s the main non-threatening Asian in the movie. Ultimately it’s a complete failure of characterization: there’s nobody there, even as we’re supposed to be worried about Teddy’s fate. The mutilation doesn’t have any weight, despite the lines about Teddy being a potential surgeon and his performance as a cellist. (There’s a whole Ethnic Studies dissertation waiting to be done about what Teddy actually represents: a scary robotic super-Asian disguised as a peaceful sidekick…a figure who needs to be cut down to size.)
While some of the touristy cityscapes are diverting, a pall hangs over this megalopolis. The Bangkok background isn’t naturally fun, like Vegas was. The Thai capitol is a smoggy Los Angelean sprawl punctuated with vertiginous luxury towers. Some of the action takes place in the tops of these towers, in penthouses; mostly, there’s a nowhere bit about a criminal Mr. Big, played by Paul Giamatti.
It’s hard to get into the spirit of things until Jeong's profane Mr Chow turns up, penis first. Chow, as a self-described “international criminal,” is in charge of the revels. Chow seems absolutely free from the conventional rules; he’s cares the least about what anyone thinks. He’s freer even than the slob-comedian of the show, Zach Galifianakis. Due to this film’s strange focus on why Stu, Alan and Phil hang out together, they’ve made Alan more mushy this time around; he’s the wet, sentimental manchild holding the trio together.
The trio seems badly rejiggered from the first Hangover—Cooper has become skeevier, for instance but Jeong’s Mr. Chow stays the same. Jeong is the only talented physical comedian in the movie. He’s worthy of the Bruce Lee war-squalls he utters in moments of rage: like Lee, he moves like a panther. Jeong is so good, director Todd Phillips must have had to ration him out in small doses, because he was too good.
Next funniest after Jeong is a spider monkey, who does a lot of things that the SPCA wouldn't like. Ultimately The Hangover Part II leaves us with nothing but the question of degree: is the always-funny chimp with a cigar a comedic step up or a step down from a spider monkey with a cigarette?