The Hangover Part II
This photo still provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Bradley Cooper, left, Zach Galifianakis, center, and Ed Helms in a scene from “The Hangover Part II.”

Not a whole lot has changed with “The Hangover Part II.”

The follow-up to the 2009 smash comedy still begins with Phil (Bradley Cooper) making a phone call moments before a wedding to explain just how much he, Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) have screwed up.

The second go-around still has the trio waking up hung over in a hotel room with no knowledge of what happened the night before. And wouldn’t you know it? The guys still spend most of the film trying to locate a vital member of the wedding party who has gone missing.

And it also still concludes with the same uproarious montage of photos that chronicles the events that occurred while the group was black out inebriated.

But the most important similarity of all, the one that really matters the most, is “The Hangover Part II” is still spit out your soda, fall out of your seat funny.

If you know me personally, I don’t need to tell you that I’m not a person who usually enjoys sequels. I think they signify the laziness of Hollywood and the fact that movie studios don’t have the imagination to come up with fresh material. And I must admit I had my doubts about “The Hangover Part II,” mainly because the previews make it look exactly like its predecessor.

But that’s the great thing about movies — they have the capacity to surprise us. I am not going to deny “The Hangover Part II” follows the same blueprint as the first film, but, to be honest, it didn’t bother me one bit. The reason? I was too busy laughing to care. And since we are talking about a comedy, shouldn’t that be your primary concern?

And it’s not like director Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the script with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong, phones it in and utilizes the same jokes that were found in the original. “The Hangover Part II” is wilder, raunchier, crazier and more shocking, and most of that can be attributed to Phillips’ decision to move the action from Las Vegas to Thailand. (If you want to see a real fish out of water story, you’ve got one now.)

The reason the Wolfpack is in the Asian country is to celebrate the nuptials of Stu and his fiancée, Lauren (Jamie Chung). Stu doesn’t want to have a bachelor party because he is still putting the broken pieces of psyche back together, but Phil successfully convinces him to have one beer — in a sealed container — on the beach with his buddies, including Doug (Justin Bartha) and Lauren’s younger brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), a 16-year-old Stanford pre-med student who is his father’s most prized possession.

Soon after the bottles of beer are raised, however, the gang wakes up in a dingy and dirty Bangkok hotel room to find Stu with a facial tattoo, Alan with a shaved head and a chain-smoking monkey wearing a denim vest that displays the Rolling Stones logo. But those “minor” inconveniences become the least of their worries when they discover Teddy’s severed finger in a bowl of water and that he is nowhere to be found.

So, in order to ensure the vows are exchanged as planned, Stu, Phil and Alan maneuver their way through the seedy streets of Bangkok to uncover clues that will help them find Teddy, all while receiving assistance from a tattoo artist (John Cassavetes), a shady businessman (Paul Giamatti), a Buddhist monk, some strippers and the flamboyant gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, who is involved in one of the film’s most side-splitting scenes).

Part of what made the first “The Hangover” so unforgettable was its star-making turn from Galifianakis, who essentially stole the spotlight as the dimwitted man-child who so desperately wants companionship. Galifianakis is equally hilarious here (his lines about an albino polar bear had me rolling down the aisles), but there are times when his shtick gets a little too mean-spirited and immature, particularly whenever he interacts with Stu’s future brother-in-law.

Cooper is also quite comical with his usual blend of charm and brashness, but “The Hangover Part II” is really Helms’ movie, and he absolutely owns it. Stu is generally the only voice of reason throughout the film, so it’s even more amusing to watch Helms’ facial expressions and reactions as he gets thrown into absurd predicaments that would make most men cower in fear.

Go ahead, try your hardest not to chuckle when Stu walks out of a strip club after learning some rather horrifying information. I triple-dog dare you.

4.5 stars (out of 5)

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