“The Hangover: Part II” review.

There’s a scene in “The Hangover: Part II” where the three protagonists are looking for clues. See, the same three guys as in the first installment, Stu, Alan and Phil, have awoken from a drunken night on the eve of an important wedding, and need to re-piece their night and find a friend they lost. Phil gets the idea to open up their pockets to check for traces of where they were the following night, but drops a line that quietly devastated me: “Alright guys, you know the drill.” It almost felt like writer-director Todd Phillips was speaking from behind the screen, ‘Alright, guys. I’m not REALLY gonna try here, but Warner Bros. is gonna drop me a fat paycheck so I’m in.’

Now, before I get too deep into my feelings about this film, I’ll shed some light on the positives. The major “twist” with this installment is that it’s set in Bangkok. And truthfully, its the hallucinatory, hellish way cinematographer Lawrence Sher shoots Bangkok, that was the major highlight of the film. Watching it, soaking in the sights, makes you feel like you’re melting in your seat, sinking into a sweaty, dirty hole. And there’s one particular chase scene in the latter third of the film involving a pig, a monkey and a group of Russian mobsters that is actually a superbly directed, well-realized sequence.

“The Hangover: Part II” is about as routine and rote a sequel as they come. It’s a movie that doesn’t feel like it had much creative or passionate energy behind it. Hell, it copy-and-pastes almost everything from the first one — the plot structure, the wacky events, hell, even some of the jokes. But what made the first “Hangover” such a bizarrely inspired stroke of comedic genius, is sadly, largely gone. It was the sense of surprise that we had as an audience. Make no mistake, that film was just as genuinely compelling a mystery as it was an uproarious comedy. Here, that’s gone. The sense of discovery and curiosity is gone. Instead, we get a mechanical retread; one that captures all the surface of the original at the expense of its soul.

Now, note that I said, it “captures the surface” of the original. This is true. There remains the offbeat chemistry between the leads. There remains the awkward dentist Stu, there remains the good-looking straight-man Phil, there remains the whiny, psychopathic, potentially pedophiliac man-child Alan. There’s still the quirky, crude one-liners, there’s still the constant penis jokes, there’s still the Mike Tyson cameo. Hell, there’s still the ending-credits montage, in which cell-phone-pictures of their wild night are displayed, so that we can piece together the mystery as an audience.

This may sound like the same uproarious fun of the first, but its truly not. On the contrary, it was probably one of the duller cinematic experiences this year. Not just because I’ve seen it all before, but because its delivered from a group of wildly talented individuals who all know they could do better. D+

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