‘Hangover 2’: Hair of the dog

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I had considered possibly resubmitting my initial review for “The Hangover” for its sequel, since that is all the writers of the latest film had done. But then I realized everything I found fresh and funny the first go-round had gone a bit stale in this second serving.

Plus, I don’t think the Cape Gazette would have paid me for it again for the same article.

The chess pieces have been rearranged, but the game is unchanged: guys celebrate wedding, gather for a pre-ceremony drink; guys wake up with no recollection of what went down and one crew member MIA; guys scramble to piece together the events and make it to the ceremony in time for the “I do’s.”

The similarities don’t end there, as there is even an exotic animal, accidental facial alterations, a tangle with drug dealer Chow (Ken Jeong), a Mike Tyson cameo, an end-credit photo montage of the boys more lascivious behavior, and a musical interlude that sums up the events in the midst of the chaos.

But the song remains the same, and judging from the initial box office receipts this past weekend, originality matters not to fans, as they flocked to the R-rated comedy for the further adventures of Stu (played by Ed Helms), Phil (played by Bradley Cooper), and Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis). And by “further,” I mean the same exact same, just in the more exotic locale of Thailand.

The self-described “Wolf Pack” is gearing up for the lavish wedding of Stu to some random hottie whom he apparently loves boundlessly. I say “apparently” because we know absolutely nothing about her, nor are we given any explanation as to the whereabouts of his Vegas stripper wife (played by Heather Graham in the first, but relegated to only a picture on the wall here), or any of their lives since the original film.

Cue the clanking of raised glasses for one last pre-wedding beverage, and we cut to the fellas crawling out of their bender the following day. They may not recall a thing, but for those who watched the first, we essentially know what went down. In place of Doug (played by Justin Bartha), now its the bride-to-be’s younger brother whose gone missing. (Poor Bartha, as Doug is still left on the sidelines, having skipped out and headed home before the madness went down.)

“Part II” is not without its minor chuckles, but for a film in which the Wolf Pack’s blacked-out misadventures are supposed to be increasingly outrageous, the whole thing feels all-too safe and neutered. Cooper dutifully recreates the same alpha position as he did in the original, and Helms is given a few more lines to scream in panic. As Alan, Galafianakis is still given the choice lines, but seems more hostile and stifled, even though he is handed a chain-smoking monkey as a sidekick.

Bangkok presented the perfect backdrop of potential depravity in which the leads could let their freak flags fly, but aside from a trip to a very different kind of strip club, there remains little surprise (and far too much reliance on Chow as a quasi-main character).

More reboot than sequel, “Hangover Part II” still narrowly escapes with enough entertainment thanks to its leads, who have developed an on-screen chemistry in which we want to invest. But if the Wolf Pack returns for another night of missing-memory debauchery, it better replace its toner cartridge, because this copy of the original is already showing signs of fading.

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