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Image: "The Hangover Part II"
Warner Bros.
Will the exotic setting of Thailand keep the sequel to "The Hangover" fresh?
TODAY contributor
updated 5/23/2011 4:14:01 PM ET 2011-05-23T20:14:01

Like the real thing, “The Hangover” was a doozy. It stayed with audiences for days, weeks, even months. Fans woke up wondering what happened, and asking how they could experience that same level of cranial activity once again.

The answer will soon be in theaters. “The Hangover Part II” opens this week.

Story: 5 shocking things about 'Hangover Part II'

Made on a relatively modest budget of $35 million, the 2009 surprise hit “The Hangover” amassed over $277 million domestically. It also raised the profiles of the creatives involved: actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, as well as a host of supporting types, including Mike Tyson and a tiger; and director Todd Phillips, who hit paydirt with “Road Trip” and “Old School” and now had a bona fide phenomenon on his hands.

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Story: Second 'Hangover' feels awfully familiar

After about two years of deciding whether to try and recreate the lightning in a bottle captured in the original — actually, it likely took about three seconds to decide that; the rest of the time was about coordinating actors’ schedules and negotiations — “The Hangover Part II” is ready to be experienced.

Video: Watch the trailer for 'The Hangover Part II' (on this page)

In this one, Stu (Ed Helms) and the boys travel to Bangkok for his wedding. He is adamant that this time they won’t have a bachelor party and get hammered into oblivion, but of course, he is mistaken. The same basic premise is on display; only the setting and the obstacles are different.

Story: The world's strangest cures for a hangover

But will “Hangover Part II” be embraced like its predecessor? Here are 10 elements that have to be in place in order for the sequel to produce head-pounding laughter:

Killer casting
Taken separately, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis each have comic promise. Cooper is an able straight man, while Helms and Galifianakis sparkle as screwball and oddball, respectively. Grouped together in an imaginative premise, they played off of each other superbly in the first film. Their efforts seemed fresh and inspired, each taking a unique character and fully realizing his potential. The best comic acting performances occur when the actors don’t play the comedy, but rather the reality of the situation. This trio nailed that. What will be interesting to see is if the script for “Hangover Part II” provides them with the same outrageous yet believable foundation from which to operate and succeed.

Video: 'The Hangover Part II' L.A. premiere (on this page)

Structurally sound
One of the reasons “The Hangover” was such a blast is because it felt like a hangover. Ordinarily, that might be painful, except of course this was a hangover suffered by others, so it was funny. In the first film, both the audience and the characters share a question: What happened? Obviously an outrageous event occurred, but beyond that nobody knows anything. The story slowly unfolds as the characters try to piece together the mystery of the previous night’s bacchanal. Can the filmmakers take that same approach, move it to Thailand and make it work just as well? We’ll soon find out if “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” applies to the laughter from this franchise.

Laugh till you puke: Gross-out humor

One night in Bangkok
If you’re going to make a movie about a group of buddies who misbehave and experience the subsequent uncomfortable fallout, Las Vegas ranks atop the worldwide listings of such locales. So how will Bangkok do for “2”? An exotic backdrop might be just the tonic to preserve this series. The three basic elements of a comedy like this — alcohol, women and criminals — reportedly can be obtained in Thailand, thus lending the film at least a veneer of authenticity. Can audiences relate? After all, not everyone has been to Thailand; not so with Vegas. Then again, if it’s funny, who cares if it takes place in Abbottabad?

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Captivating cameo
“Mr. Tyson would like to know, why is this tiger in your bathroom?” Mike Tyson wasn’t the only one who wondered — audiences had the same question. Tyson just happened to have the most devastating right cross in the room, as a prone and unconscious Galifianakis proved. Tyson’s presence gave “The Hangover” an absurdist quality that only a former menace of popular culture could offer. Good news: Tyson is back in this new edition. Better news: Liam Neeson reportedly makes a cameo, and Paul Giamatti shows up, too. Best news: A brief Mel Gibson appearance was axed after objections from the crew, according to director Todd Phillips. No word on whether the tiger appears again. His agent did not return phone calls.

Video: 'Hangover' director reveals set's biggest diva (on this page)

Call the doctor
Did you know that Ken Jeong is a doctor? Not a PhD of geography or social work, but a real medico? He put down the tongue depressor and picked up a theatrical agent somewhere along the way, and now he’s a near comic legend. His turn as a Chinese gangster in “The Hangover” provided a heaping helping of high-octane amusement. He’s back in “Hangover Part II.” How he goes from the trunk of a car in a Las Vegas parking lot to Thailand is a challenge best left to skilled screenwriters. Suffice to say that if the doctor is in, the second installment figures to be a lot healthier.

Story: Which 'Hangover' star has a nude scene?

Defaced face
Ed Helms’ character Stu Price in the original wakes up with a missing tooth. It’s a fairly prominent missing tooth, too; not the kind you cover up by speaking out of the side of your mouth. It made for an effective sight gag, but the tooth also served as a missing piece in the overall puzzle of the narrative. In trailers for “Hangover Part II,” Helms seems to suffer no dental distress, but he has quite a Mike Tyson-style Maori-inspired tattoo on his mug. Will that ink keep the story flowing in the sequel, or will it represent just another pretty face?

Story: Will tattoo dispute delay 'Hangover' opening?

Man behind the camera
Todd Phillips directed “The Hangover.” That was his vision on the screen, every nasty, naughty, bawdy bit. He also directed “The Hangover Part II.” The question, of course, is whether he can recreate the same magic. He isn’t exactly a novice: Phillips directed such successful comedies as “Road Trip” in 2000, and “Old School” in 2003. Of course, he also helmed last year’s “Due Date,” with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, which was savaged by critics but was a modest box office hit. Phillips will have to bring his A game to make sure the sequel doesn’t sink to the level of a B movie.

Don't be a 'Hangover' tourist

Baby vs. monkey
This is not a debate that rages often in American households. By almost a 2 to 1 margin, average people choose babies. So did the filmmakers in the original “Hangover,” as the boys woke up to find an infant among their list of “What happened?” items. This time, they arise to discover a monkey among them. Monkeys have more inherent comedic potential than babies, so the outlook for “Hangover II” is promising in that regard — as long as a chunk of the movie isn’t spent finding its mother.

Video: 'Hangover' stars dish on the sequel (on this page)

Femme fatales
Two women were particularly important to the success of the first “Hangover” film: Rachael Harris, who played Stu’s shrewish wife Melissa, and Heather Graham, who played Jade, the stripper who Stu later discovered he married in a quickie ceremony. The phone blasts from Melissa helped push Stu closer to Jade, and it was that dynamic that helped keep the dramatic (as it were) tension high. Neither is featured in “Hangover Part II.” So the filmmakers faced quite a task trying to recreate those vital female forces in the new version. Women trouble is as much a time-honored tradition in male relationships as the hangover itself.

Not too raunchy, not too sweet
The first “Hangover” successfully straddled the treacherous divide between the tasteless and the sweet. If the tone of the first one leaned too far toward the rowdy and raunchy without making the characters real, then the movie would have become unbalanced. Instead, it maintained a delightful comic equilibrium. The filmmakers need that deft touch again, or else moviegoers’ heads will actually throb in pain while leaving “Hangover Part II.”

Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Watch the trailer for 'The Hangover Part II'

Photos: Summer's upcoming blockbusters

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  1. Summer movie season

    Summer's here, and the time is right for hiding in dark, air-conditioned theaters, watching some sequels that are already sequels to sequels. And perhaps a good original movie or two. Strap yourself in for the blockbusters to come -- "Bridesmaids," seen here, is already marching down the theater aisle. --Dave White (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (May 20)

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush

    What it is: "Pirates 4" focuses on something about mermaids and Blackbeard and zombies and the Fountain of Youth. Look, are you going to see this for the plot or because you want to watch Johnny Depp and Keith Richards out-stagger each other? Don’t lie to yourself.

    Biggest fear going in: That the filmmakers will muddy the water with foolish ideas about having something to say instead of allowing Depp’s antics and the special effects to rule the moment. (Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' (May 27)

    Starring: Voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman

    What it is: Having established his awesomeness as the awesomest fighting panda in the awesome original, Po (voiced by Black) returns in "Kung Fu Panda 2" to awesomely battle a very mean peacock.

    Potential to be awesome: Show of hands, who didn’t like the first film? If the filmmakers don’t mess with that installment’s formula of great animation plus charm plus wit, all will be well and children’s karate classes will reap the benefits. (DreamWorks) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'The Hangover Part II' (May 27)

    Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

    What it is: "The Hangover Part 2" is, a) The same movie as before but in a new city and b) a kind of shameless cash-in and c) Zach Galifianakis’ ticket to never having to work again if he doesn’t feel like it (except he feels like it a lot and is currently tied with Natalie Portman in what feels like a bizarre ubiquity contest).

    How funny it will be: Pointlessness be darned, you can count on Galifianakis. He owned the original and will probably do it again. (Warner Bros) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'X-Men: First Class' (June 3)

    Starring: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, January Jones

    What it is: "X-Men: First Class" is set in the early 1960s, showing how the X-Teens at Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters became the X-Adults. That means the cast is newer and younger and dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis. You probably never knew that mutant superheroes were part of that thing. That’s what you get for sleeping through history class.

    A lesson in jump-starting a stalled franchise: After “X-Men: The Last Stand” annoyed its core audience, a tune-up was needed. What better way to accomplish that goal than to time-travel back to an origin story with a hip young cast? And it makes much more sense than simply saying, “OK, we’re going to make another first chapter film about 'The Incredible Hulk'” or “Hey, remember those old 'Spider-Man' movies from five minutes ago? They don’t count anymore.” (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Super 8' (June 10)

    Starring: Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning

    What it is : It’s 1979 and some geeky, filmmaking kids find an alien. Not a cute one. You can call "Super 8" “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams’ more menacing “E.T.” if you want but what you can’t call it is a sequel or remake or reboot. And for a big movie landing smack-dab in the middle of the summer movie season, that feels like some kind of miracle.

    Most excellent stamp of approval: Producer Steven Spielberg’s, of course. Advance word is that Abrams has made an exciting valentine to that director’s heyday. Now here’s hoping it lives up to those expectations and avoids falling into the cracks caused by an X-Men/Green Lantern earthquake. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Green Lantern' (June 17)

    Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard

    What it is: Reynolds is The "Green Lantern." He wears a green suit, fights bad guys and works with an interplanetary corps of power-ring-wearing space cops to maintain order in the universe. Blake Lively plays someone who wears really fashionable clothes, no doubt. OK, lie, she plays an aerospace executive.

    Extreme nerd alert: More than “Thor,” more than “Captain America,” this is the Comic-Con date movie of the summer. It comes with the most fan yearning attached and, therefore, the most to lose. If you aren’t on a date with a nerd when you see this, at least you’ll finally get what that circle-in-between-two-lines T-shirt means. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Mr. Popper’s Penguins' (June 17)

    Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury

    What it is: In "Mr. Popper's Penguins," a heartless corporate type (Carrey) learns to be nice when a brood of penguins show up at his doorstep (no word on whether or not he also learns to do that marching thing they’re so famous for). Based on the beloved classic children’s book, it could go a long way toward erasing the memory of Carrey's creepy animated “A Christmas Carol.”

    Tailor-made for: Everyone.The book was published in 1938. That means it was also your grandmother’s childhood favorite. And who doesn’t love penguins? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Bad Teacher' (June 24)

    Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel

    What it is: In "Bad Teacher," Cameron Diaz drinks and smokes weed. In the classroom. She hates the kids. She doesn’t care if they learn. Think an easier-on-the-eyes Billy Bob Thornton minus the Santa suit and you have every teacher union’s worst public relations nightmare.

    What Diaz keeps proving: The pretty woman can also be the funny woman. And if this one and “Bridesmaids” hit audiences in the right spot, that whole grown-up female comedy snowball will just get bigger, badder and more impossible for Hollywood to ignore. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Cars 2' (June 24)

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine

    What it is: Um… OK, so… now the cars are… spies? Whatever, "Cars 2" is about these talking cartoon automobiles, see, and you have to take your children to it. No exceptions. It’s the Pixar joint that’s least loved by adults and most loved by the under-10s, but you have to concede that even when this studio is only batting .500, that’s a way better average than just about everybody else.

    Coolest marketing move they could make: Give away tickets. That’s right, let everyone in for free. Pixar already makes about a billion dollars a year on toys and talking Larry The Cable Guy toothbrushes — no joke, they do — so why not just consider the movie itself a loss leader? (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' (July 1)

    Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

    What it is: In "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," the cars-that-turn-into-robots continue their never-ending quest to fight and fight and fight and fight. And this time they do all that on the moon and in 3-D. Haters are invited to go see “The Help” or that new Woody Allen movie, whatever it’s called.

    Funny joke Michael Bay has already made publicly: He claims that because this one is in 3-D, he held the camera still for more than half a second at a time. What’s he trying to do, make an art film or something? Brace yourself for coherent visuals. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' (July 15)

    Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

    What it is: 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' is THE movie of the summer, 10 years in the making. When other sequels tell you they’re the last in the series, they’re always lying to you. This one isn’t. So long, Harry.

    Chance it will live up to its own hype: Have you seen that trailer? Or, for that matter, have you seen the most recent bigger, better, darker Potter films? The “Boy Who Lived” is going out with a big bang. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Winnie The Pooh' (July 15)

    Starring: Voices of Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson

    What it is: In "Winnie the Pooh," Eeyore the donkey needs a new tail so Pooh and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood help him find one. Honey is also consumed. And then Piglet and Tigger turn into giant metallic fighting robots and make fart jokes. Guess which one of those plot points is fake.

    What’s the appeal?: They are not digital animals interacting with a live-action Christopher Robin. They are not in 3-D. They are rated “G.” They do not conduct a dance-off to “Baby Got Back.” They are as old-fashioned and sweet as you remember them. Need any more reasons? (Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (July 22)

    Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones

    What it is: The theme song to the crudely animated Saturday morning cartoon of the 1960s really says it all about "Captain America: The First Avenger": “When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and the white and the blue’ll come through.” And in this introductory course in all things Captain, he throws his shield at Nazis during World War II. Klang!

    Where all this is leading: Marvel is building a kingdom at the movies. It started with “Iron Man” and continues with “Thor” and will soon encompass this and other superhero characters that will team up and form The Avengers. If you’re one of those people who wish all this stuff would just go away, sorry but you’re out of luck. It’s just gearing up. For the rest of you: WHOOO-HOOOO! (Marvel Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Cowboys & Aliens' (July 29)

    Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

    What it is: "Cowboys and Aliens" is exactly what it says it is — cowboys in the Old West find themselves battling aliens, only without the benefit of a history of science-fiction movies and TV shows informing their sensibility. In other words, no “Star Wars” points of reference to hang their strategy on. Sorry, Han Solo.

    What’s at stake, box-office-wise: The production schedules of other genre mash-up style projects like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'The Smurfs' (July 29)

    Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria

    What it is: It's "The Smurfs," an adventure revolving around characters who haven’t been seen on Saturday-morning TV for decades — not that selling nostalgia to parents and cute CG creatures to kids wasn’t a winning formula for the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise. The tiny blue dudes (and one tiny Smurfette) cross over from their magical land to New York City where, presumably, Harris can at least help them pick up hard-to-get tickets for Broadway shows.

    Parental advisory: It’s quite likely your children will leave the theater wanting to buy little blue dolls and/or using various forms of “Smurf” to substitute for any and all other words. But there are worse things than that. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (Aug. 5)

    Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis

    What it is: The prequel "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is actually sort of a remake of 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” which was one of the sequels to the original “Planet of the Apes,” which was itself weirdly remade by Tim Burton a few years back. Confused yet? Have a banana and calm down.

    Lingering question: Did Franco take this gig because it’s part of his ongoing life-as-art project, which includes a stint on “General Hospital,” gallery exhibitions of his own weird video work revolving around cultural offerings like “My Own Private Idaho” and “Three’s Company,” hosting the Oscars and strenuously colleging his way to half a dozen graduate degrees? Or does he just really like jobs? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. 'The Help' (Aug. 12)

    Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek

    What it is: "The Help" is that book everybody's book club loved so much. White Southern belles and their African-American maids negotiate the upheaval surrounding the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.

    Built in counter-programming appeal: No robots, but lots of hats, gloves, shoes and social justice. (DreamWorks Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 'Fright Night' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette

    What it is : "Fright Night" is a remake of the schlocky 1985 horror movie that no one was demanding be remade.

    What’s already very, very strange about it: The project stars Toni Collette and Colin Farrell, two respected actors whose careers tend to point more in the direction of leading roles in higher-profile indie films. And its director is Craig Gillespie, who made the Oscar-nominated/Sundance Film Festival hit “Lars and The Real Girl.” So it’s the arthouse “Fright Night” now? (DreamWorks II) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. 'Spy Kids 4: All The Time in The World' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale

    What it is: In "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," the spy kids grew up and, presumably, went off to spy university or something, but they do appear — in what capacity is uncertain — in this movie that’s all about Jessica Alba as a spy mom . Look, whatever it takes.

    Secret appeal to fans of “Grindhouse”: Danny Trejo shows up as Machete! (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 'Conan the Barbarian' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan

    What it is: "Conan the Barbarian" gets the reboot treatment with newcomer Momoa (“Stargate Atlantis,” "Game of Thrones") as the man who devotes equal time to sword-swinging, death-avenging and pectoral-oiling. There was much more opportunity to fully commit oneself to each pursuit in fantasy olden times of yore.

    Beware the ides of, well, August: This very late summer release might not be the best news for fans of this title. It’s from the man whose last films were the reboots of “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and has, sadly, a distinctly minor-league vibe going on already. Also, the closer a film’s release is to Labor Day, the more it all starts to smell like “clearance sale.” Forewarned is forearmed. (Simon Varsano / Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Final Destination 5' (Aug. 26)

    Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner

    What it is: With "Final Destination 5," Death is not a guy you can trust to just go away, even after he promises everything’s cool. He’s got more teens to kill in convoluted ways, this time starting with a suspension bridge collapse and, who knows, maybe winding up at a miniature golf course. All bets are off.

    Lies piled up on top of lies: The previous installment was titled “THE Final Destination” and we all believed you. Clearly, “final” means something else in your dictionary, movie. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
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