The wolf pack is back in another pickle, having not learned their lesson last time, it seems. What is it with weddings that it brings out the worst in Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha), resorting them to drink themselves into oblivion and make amends afterwards in the most fantastical ways? The exact same formula is adopted in Part II as in the hit 2009 film, so much so, that the guys make constant (sometimes tiresome) references to the previous, epic Vegas stag do to emphasise this and fuel interest in the mayhem to follow. Indeed, film-makers Todd Phillips and co make no apologies for being creatures of habit and sticking to what worked for them before.
That said, and even swapping Vegas for Bangkok, which gives this film its colourful, seedy and far darker edge, the latest edition will divide the fan camp. Like Marmite, you’ll love it or hate it.
This time, it’s Stu’s turn to get hitched to stunning fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung). Appalled by his cozy ‘bachelor breakfast’ suggestion, ringleader and ever-the-big-teen Phil decides Stu needs to be sent off in style. Reluctantly, Stu agrees to this and to inviting man-child and trouble-magnet Alan to come along to Thailand for the ceremony. However, Alan feels highly protective over his ‘wolf pack’ of friends, and doesn’t like another male – Lauren’s teen prodigy brother Teddy (Mason Lee) – joining the gang and spoiling the equilibrium. After a pre-wedding dinner and some awkward speeches in the stunning Thai beach resort, the friends and Teddy venture down to the beach for one last drink: Cue squalid, trashed Bangkok hotel room, missing friend, and a serious case of déjà vu… “It happened again?” says a bleary-eyed Phil – you bet.
Whereas the first film was somewhat a goofy but charming state of affairs, Part II goes all-out for boorish shock tactics (LOTS of male genitalia), coupled with an uneasy tragic sentiment – even in the first nightmare hotel scene that could just be because underground Bangkok is suitably ripe for the debauched taking.
The new setting also enhances Alan’s obvious mental health issues, which seemed more endearingly quirky than worrying in the last film, and which for the most part are still humorous in this, thanks to Galifianakis’s timing, but are also woefully uncomfortable to watch sometimes; it’s like mocking the mentally-challenged person when other laughs can’t be found elsewhere. It’s only Helms as Stu doing his usual OTT freak-out routine, reminiscent of a crazed tooth-baring horse, and pleasing-on-the-eye Cooper as pretty-boy Phil trying to use his brains to keep hold of the situation that refocus your attention on the urgency of the latest ‘missing persons’ puzzle facing them. Bartha was absent for most of the last film, but seems more deplorably wasted as a character here, merely present to field phone calls back at the resort.
But it’s Ken Jeong’s beefed-up return as Mr. Chow at the very start that will divide opinion from the word go. Admittedly, his offensive remarks provide some glory moments, and he gets a lot of the laughs in some of the crazy set pieces – such as a car chase. However, his is an increasingly arduous character, especially the appearance of his non-existent manhood – again – that was shocking in the first film (as how could anyone be that small), but prompts reactions of ‘put it away, please’ in this. In fact, like an excitable stag, Phillips goes overboard with the ‘spanking the monkey’ joke – who replaces the misplaced baby in the last film and gets many laughs of its own – that it feels like being on a stag do that’s wearily running out of steam.
Part II also throws up every Bangkok cliché you can possibly think of, so that the film-makers get the full value out of shooting in the place – which was harsh in itself with lots of cast and crew sickness about that’s evidently reproduced in the film. After all, the original film’s hook was discovering what was going to happen next, but as this film blatantly follows the same path, it’s just seeing how they’ll recreate the gags in Bangkok. Even Mike Tyson’s much-publicised second cameo takes away the wow factor at the very end. And Mel Gibson’s absence as the tattoo artist, Tattoo Joe, now played by Nick Cassavetes, proves brief and forgettable. Only the tour-de-acting-force that is Paul Giamatti as Kingsley (shalln’t give the game away by describing his character) is really only felt for a brief moment, then fizzles out into the ether.
To be honest, although newcomers to the franchise could watch this as a standalone, you really do have to have seen the first film to fully get the gags and the constant references – or it’s like being absent on the last stag do and missing all the in-jokes, but feeling you have to laugh anyway. However, as a weekend group outing, Part II serves its purpose and still has some memorable moments and the classic photomontage at the end, which is far more outrageous than the first.
Whether “Bangkok has you” depends on your mindset at the start of the journey. If you’re with the boys and fully onboard for another manic adventure, this film hits a weak spot that craves for more of the same – especially as it constantly promises you such. And there are lots of crazier moments to feast on and giggle at – the funniest being right at the end and totally subliminal, involving Alan and a speedboat in the background. If you feel cheated by the lazy formula of copying the old, it’s a long, sweaty, dirty road to being proven right about the inevitable outcome. After all, it has to have a happy ending – even in the darkest hours of Bangkok.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie