Once “The Hangover” set the all-time box-office record for R-rated comedies, earning $467.5 million worldwide in 2009, it became a formality that stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis would blackout their way into manic oblivion once more in a sequel.
It’s here, opening Thursday, with director Todd Phillips’ three-headed Wolfpack relocated from Las Vegas to the treacherous streets of Bangkok, where once again a night of unseen (but sufficiently epic) partying lands them in hot water with mobsters, uncomfortably close with exotic strippers, and missing a member of their gang. (This time played by Mason Lee, son of director Ang Lee.)
The question, of course, is whether the debauchery of “The Hangover Part II” is simply more of the same or an attempt to build on the legend of its history-making predecessor.
The faces are familiar, even those who are just passing through for a quick laugh, like a returning Mike Tyson. (Phillips nixed a proposed cameo by Mel Gibson, but declines to elaborate on the decision.)
But to hear Cooper and Helms tell it, “Part II” isn’t just a more compelling narrative, it’s a more revealing study of the men whose bad behavior would make their ladies blush, if only they knew the goriest, most sensational details.
“You really didn’t get to know the characters in the first one,” says Cooper, 36, in a frankly surprising admission. “There was so much unfinished. The narrative in the first one was just this ticking clock, a long setup for the punch line, which are the credits.
“It’s just one joke. When you get to the end of [‘Part II’], I’m excited for the credits, but I’m more interested in the dynamic between the guys.”
Cooper credits his first “Hangover” with sending his career into orbit, noting that it also made him a tabloid staple. For him, the most challenging aspect of the sequel was not working with Crystal, a drug-dealing Capuchin monkey, but the sheer number of people flooding the streets of Thailand, crowding the production.
Helms, the 37-year-old star of NBC’s “The Office,” who describes “Part II” as so many “onion layers to be peeled back,” quickly encountered a more significant obstacle: severe food poisoning. He says his body “basically exploded” at the onset of shooting.
Perhaps appropriately, co-star Justin Bartha, 32 — who spent most of the original off-screen on a hotel rooftop and once again misses the party in “II” — had a much less eventful Bangkok vacation. “Nothing too exciting,” he says. “I think once I ordered a Diet Coke and I got a Coke instead.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jeffrey Tambor, Mason Lee, Jamie Chung, Paul Giamatti
Written by Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong
Directed by Todd Phillips
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes