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“Hangover” sequel is darker, more bold, and better than the original – Sean’s review

By Sean O’Connell “I can’t believe this is happening again,” Ed Helms’ embattled bride-to-be Stu says after waking up alongside equally dazed Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) in “The Hangover Part II.”

Apparently Stu didn’t get a look at the original’s box office receipts. The minute Todd Phillips’ raucous, bleary-eyed “Hangover” made north of $460 million worldwide, a return trip for this intoxicated trio became as inevitable as the headache that follows an evening of binge drinking.

Phillips’ “The Hangover Part II” (*** out of 4) serves as the identical twin of its successful predecessor – sometimes mirroring the original shot for shot – save for one beneficial twist. A shift in the action from Las Vegas’ artificially glitzy but never really dangerous adult playground to the seedy, depraved and downright deadly streets of Bangkok, Thailand results in a darker and far more demented adventure for “the three best friends that anyone could ever have.” I suppose that makes this “The Hangover’s” evil twin. Yet every time Phillips pushed his undoubtedly formulaic sequel down yet another squalid alley for the sake of a shocking joke, I grew to appreciate, respect and even love “The Hangover Part II” more than the original (which I never embraced as wholeheartedly as the general public).

Once again, our familiar leads find themselves in an awkward (and contrived) situation where, after a wild night, they wake up in a strange location and must work backwards through the rubble to piece together their buffoonish actions. This time, the missing person Stu, Alan and Phil are racing to find is Teddy (Mason Lee), younger brother of Stu’s beautiful fiancée (Jamie Chung) who shares a drink with the guys the night before Stu’s wedding but is nowhere to be found the following morning.

Teddy actually begins creating problems for our trio long before they arrive in Thailand for Stu’s nuptials. He’s not a member of Alan’s self-enforced wolf pack, naturally, and Galifianakis — more unhinged and socially awkward in this installment — turns Alan’s possessive, jealous attitude toward Teddy into a fountain of inspiration for fresh laughs. It’s also Teddy’s severed finger that Phil finds on the floor of the Bangkok apartment where the trio wakes up, alerting the audience to the fact that the rules are somewhat different and slightly more treacherous this time around.

Most will criticize Phillips’ sequel for adhering to the structure established in the first film. I’d argue it’s the smartest choice he could make. Cooper admitted in a recent interview that the “Hangover” characters weren’t beefy enough to stand on their own outside of the formula, and I’d tend to agree. Yes, there’s also the old adage about something not needing to be fixed if it isn’t broken, and clearly the first “Hangover” worked well for a lot of people. But by establishing a foundation of familiarity (almost to the point of spoof), Phillips creates enough wiggle room to build commendably disturbing new scenarios involving Asian transvestites, silent monks, corrupt tattoo artists. drug-smuggling monkeys, and the music of Billy Joel.

“The Hangover Part II” doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But it does drive its dependable vehicle down unexpected avenues and arrives at some twisted destinations that will surprise – and entertain – an audience hoping for another crazy adventure with these memorable antiheroes. For one more film, at least, there was enough juice left in the premise. But take note: If a third “Hangover” happens (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t), the game will have to change drastically to avoid giving everyone involved on both sides of the screen a massive headache.

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