The Hangover Part II (15)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha
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Do you remember Bruce Willis finding himself in the middle of a hijack plot in Die Hard 2 and muttering in disbelief, "How could the same shit happen to the same guy twice?" Well, that question is posed again, in almost the same words, during The Hangover Part II. If we're being cynical about it, we could answer with a question of our own: how could it not happen, given the ton of money the first one made? The film immediately set itself a problem by changing writers. Heaven knows how Jon Lucas and Scott Moore pulled off the original script – their careers gave no indication of greatness in waiting. Second time around the writing team comprises Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and the director, Todd Phillips, and the strangest aspect is that they seem quite clueless about the things that made the first one comedy gold.

The one thing they can't change, of course, is the way The Hangover arrived out of nowhere. Yes, we'd seen blokes-misbehaving-in-Vegas comedies, and any number of bachelor-party movies, but we'd never seen it done like this before and (crucially, I think) we didn't really know those actors, either. The chemistry, if that's what you want to call it, between alpha-male Phil (Bradley Cooper), square suburban dentist Stu (Ed Helms) and borderline sociopath Alan (Zach Galifianakis), triggered a kind of giddiness of response that seemed to make everything they said hilarious. (I'm still laughing at Alan in the Caesar's Palace scene.)

We know them now, of course, and it's their comic verve we hope that The Hangover Part II will showcase. This time it's Stu who's about to tie the knot, and there's no way they're having another bachelor party: "I'm still putting the broken pieces of my psyche back together," he says. He and his fiancée (Jamie Chung) are to be wed in a fancy Thailand resort, the only black spot being the bride's father, who likens Stu to "soft white rice in lukewarm water" – stodgy and wet. Only after constant badgering will Stu even agree to a beer with the guys, just one each before he goes to bed. And that's his mistake right there. The trio wake face-down next morning in a sleazy Bangkok doss-house with no memory of how they got there and Johnny Cash on the soundtrack singing "The Beast in Me".

So it's another dose of the déjà vus as they retrace the lost hours that led them to this bleary-eyed, dry-throated, sweat-stained disgrace. Some details differ. Instead of a vanished groom (second time around for Justin Bartha to twiddle his thumbs), Stu's prospective brother-in-law has gone missing. Instead of a tiger in the bathroom there's a capuchin monkey, and instead of a baby in the closet there's Chow (Ken Jeong), the bantam gangster from the first movie. Otherwise it's a variation on the theme. It's not giving much away – their mugs are plastered on the side of every bus in town – to note that Stu now has a Mike Tyson face tattoo and Alan a shaven head. Phil seems to have got off lightly, though later he's beaten by a Buddhist monk and shot by a Russian drug dealer.

Director Phillips whips along proceedings at break-neck speed, perhaps in the hope that we won't notice how all the quirks we loved the first time – Stu's rising screech of panic, Alan's catastrophic disinhibition, the sudden plot swerves – are nothing like as funny the second time, and no amount of wishing will make them so. It will probably be a hit, all the same, which means the worst of this hangover is yet to come.