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MOVIE REVIEW

The Hangover Part II

No cure for this ‘Hangover’

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / May 26, 2011

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‘I can’t believe this is happening again!’’ screams one of the heroes of “The Hangover Part II’’ at an uncaring Bangkok sky. That’s the functional paradox driving every movie sequel, that characters and audience alike have to suspend disbelief while the same things happen all over again. The only acceptable change is in the direction of more: If not better, a Part II always has to be bigger.

In the case of “The Hangover Part II,’’ that means raunchier, nastier, darker. It also means much more predictable, which is ruinous. Since the original “Hangover’’ was predicated on surprise — how could the reality of the night before ever match up to the wreckage of this morning after? — hitting the same beats in more or less the same order removes the shock laughs and leaves only the scuzziness. The movie’s an unclean thing and a mostly unfunny one.

Contorting itself to get all the players back into their starting boxes, “Hangover Part II’’ sends the “wolf pack’’ to sunny Thailand for the wedding of Stu (Ed Helms) to Lauren (Jamie Chung). Still a gawky nice-guy dentist, he has shed both the castrating fiancée and sweetie-pie hooker wife from the first movie, has apparently grown back his tooth, and is marrying into an Asian-American family with a glowering paterfamilias (Nirut Sirichanya). The one thing Stu doesn’t want is a bachelor party.

He gets one, of course. I don’t have to explain how he wakes up in a sleazy Bangkok hotel room with no memories of the night before — if you saw the first film, you have a pretty good idea — but the Maori tattoo on his face is a nice hint of how low a man with no inhibitions can go. Along for the ride is cynical best friend Phil (Bradley Cooper), again leading the investigation into what the hell happened, and freaky-deaky man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

There was a fourth, the bride’s kid brother Teddy (Mason Lee, son of director Ang Lee), but he has gone missing, leaving behind only a severed finger with a Stanford ring. (The first movie’s groom, played by Justin Bartha, still doesn’t get to play along, since he’s back at home base stalling the wedding party.) “Hangover Part II’’ precisely replicates the search for the missing friend with stops at bars and strip clubs, run-ins with angry Russian gangsters and angrier Buddhist monks, and a running gag involving a pet monkey who wears a Rolling Stones jacket and enjoys cigarettes and fellatio. “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language,’’ says Alan, which probably explains why these movies are worldwide hits.

Because we’re in the wild, wild East this time rather than Vegas, the potential for genuinely taboo (i.e., non-American) behavior is there, at least in the Western popular imagination and the minds of the filmmakers. “The Hangover Part II’’ is oddly shy about this until it’s not, at which point it pushes against the edges of its R rating with a vengeance. A modest note to parents: Since the first “Hangover’’ was also a runaway hit on home video, millions of middle-schoolers across the country may spend the weekend trying to sneak into this sequel. Which is great, really, since you’re just not ready for high school until you’ve had a good look at a Thai transsexual’s scrotum.

Director Todd Phillips returns with a new writing team, and clearly everyone has been given orders not to mess with a sure thing. So Ken Jeong is back as the fey, foul-mouthed gangster Mr. Chow, and once again he jumps naked out of hiding in one scene. Putting this mincing yellowface caricature in an actual East Asian setting might seem like playing with fire, but in general “Part II’’ is less racist than utterly clueless.

One of the few new faces is Paul Giamatti, looking puffy and out-of-sorts as a growling American Mr. Big. Otherwise, the movie is crasser than ever yet safer than before. A sort of Gene Wilder on horse tranquilizers, Galifianakis was the rogue element that put “The Hangover’’ over the top and he’s the only, I repeat only, saving grace of the sequel. Almost every one of Alan’s lines, every bit of physical schtick, gets a laugh — if only a nervous one — but the momentum never builds to combustible levels; and too many of the gags, like a flashback in which the main characters are played as adults by children, are more weird than funny.

Meanwhile, the ick factor is rising fast. By the final scenes of the new film, the boys are desperately in need of a long, hot shower. So, dear Lord, are we.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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THE HANGOVER PART II

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Written by: Phillips, Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Mason Lee

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 102 minutes

Rated: R (pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images, smoking monkeys)

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