Rating: ★★½☆☆

Long before it was even released and became the huge critical and commercial success that it did, 2009′s The Hangover had impressed test audiences enough that a sequel was swiftly greenlit. Invite scoffs though this did, the infectiously crude, surprisingly sweet bent to the humour and all that it had to say about male group dynamics did well to distract from the fact that it would lead to the inevitable cash grab.

Well, it’s two years later and The Hangover Part II is just that cash grab. While the cast is clearly game and the film isn’t without its moments of inspired lunacy, the sheer laziness with which the original film’s premise is soulessly recycled makes it a film difficult to feel enthusiastic about from the outset. It lacks the loony harmlessness of its predecessor and in upping the stakes also finds that its heart isn’t in quite the right place.

Part II begins just as the first film did; Phil (Bradley Cooper) calls up a panicked bride to let her know that their plan to have a few drinks didn’t quite go to plan. While deranged man-child Alan (Zack Galafianakis) and groom-to-be Stu (Ed Helms) are back for round two, Doug (Justin Bartha) is again relegated to the sidelines and instead the missing reveller is the kid brother of Stu’s bride, Teddy (Mason Lee).

It’s very much business as usual for the Wolfpack here – Mike Tyson makes a fleeting appearance, Ken Jeong crops up as the rarely-clothed maniac Mr. Chow – and despite a few solid cameos – Nick Cassavetes ably replaces Mel Gibson (fired before filming his part could begin after a cast mutiny) and Liam Neeson (footage replaced after plot changes made his dialogue redundant) in that tattooist cameo even if it’s strangely wordy and action-less, while Paul Giamatt’s turn is too delicious to spoil – yet director Todd Phillips’ meagre effort to change up the original formula evokes the same disappointment as his OK-but-not-great Due Date.

The difference is that in approaching this sequel with a “bigger is better” attitude and moving the setting to Thailand, Phillips has negated the original’s warmth, and as a result the cast’s chemistry suffers as does the laugh count, stymied by a tone that too often descends into mean-spiritedness.

Cynical though it is as a bout of Hollywood greed, it can’t be written off entirely; the star of the show is in many ways the gang’s monkey companion, essentially serving as a substitute for the first film’s baby. Furthermore, the cast are trying their hardest to give the material a jovial frat-boy urgency, though the mechanical manner in which the first film’s beats are recycled gives the actors a tough job to do indeed.

The logical conclusion is that the studio balked at the idea of doing anything but replicating the first film’s formula – how fun could a more Road Trip-esque jaunt have been, without the constraints of this premise? – and though one hoped that a talented scribe like Phillips might find a way to script himself out of the corner, there’s just not enough fresh or funny here to compensate for the pretty repugnant, crass manner in which the style, situations, and even a bit of the dialogue has been near enough carbon copied.

How much you’ll go for it depends on whether, like our beleaguered comrades, you partake in a tipple before seeing it, a strategy easy to recommend given the film’s tendency towards the uproarious – and occasionally hilarious – while doing absolutely nothing to raise reasoned, sober expectations.

Certainly not unfunny, but The Hangover Part 2 is as desperate as you might expect, and does little to justify its own existence. With the expected box office reciepts, though, you can look forward to gearing up for The Hangover Part III. Probably in glorious 3D.

The Hangover Part II is in cinema’s now.

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This article was first posted on May 27, 2011