Part of me wanted to smack director Todd Phillips when I first started hearing rumblings that The Hangover Part II was a carbon copy of The Hangover. How many times in the past week have you heard, ‘It’s a step-by-step rehash of the original, only in Thailand”?

But then it hit me. Um, did everyone forget how funny and brilliant the first one was? Did you want the sequel to be a spy thriller or something? Maybe a profound, introspective treatise on life, death, and the afterlife?

No– I want Stu, Phil, and Alan waking up in a stupor, not having the faintest idea what took place over the last 12 hours. And I want crazy things to happen as they try to put the pieces together. Sure, the originality that made the first film stand out is gone, but halfway through The Hangover Part II (if not sooner), you’ll realize that the films’ true strength is not so much the story as it is the characters and their reactions to these ungodly situations.

In fact, I’ll go ahead and say that parts are even funnier this go-round, because of the whole ‘Holy crap! Again?‘ of it.

As with the first, we begin with preparations for a wedding, this time at a tropical resort in Thailand. And then we get the phone call– Phil (Bradley Cooper) breaks the news that they’ve really messed up, and that there won’t be a wedding. Flashback to a week earlier, and we learn that it’s Stu (Ed Helms) who’s getting hitched, and he’s invited Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil along to share the big day with him.

Out of familial obligation, Doug would like Stu to invite Alan (Zach Galifianakis), too, and eventually the groom caves. The Wolfpack is back. Stu is adamant, though, there won’t be any craziness or hijinks this time. He hosts his bachelor party over brunch at IHOP, keeping a napkin over his orange juice the whole time to prevent roofie-ing, and then, when they get to Thailand, Stu’s reluctant to spend just 20 minutes on the beach hanging with his buds and his future brother-in-law, teenager Teddy (Mason Lee). But since the beer is in a sealed bottle, and since they all agree to only have one, well… what could possibly go wrong?

The next morning, Stu, Alan, and Phil wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room with a cocaine-snorting, naked Chow (Ken Jeong), a jeans jacket-wearing, dope-peddling monkey, and no recollection of the previous night. Alan is bald, Stu has Mike Tyson’s tattoo on his face, and Teddy is missing, though his severed right ring finger is discovered among the squalor.

Along their path to enlightenment, the boys then visit a tattoo parlor, a police station, and burned-down night club, a monastery, and a strip club. There’s a gunshot wound, a car chase, and a beatdown at the hands of a particularly grumpy Buddhist monk. And there’s also a particularly squirm-inducing moment when Stu discovers one of the highlights of his evening.

The comedy comes flying at you just as fast-and-furious as in the original, and while at times it follows the original script a little too closely, you won’t have any trouble finding something to laugh at. Helms’ over-the-top ‘What [on Earth] is going on??’ reactions help him to easily steal the show out from under his co-stars, and that’s no mean feat; Galifianakis brings the same man-child sensibilities to Alan as he did in The Hangover, but since we’re used to them now, they’re much easier to appreciate. And cameos from Mike Tyson, Nick Cassavetes, and Paul Giamatti only add to the fun.

Detractors are having a field day, saying director Todd Phillips just copped out and is cashing in on a proven formula. But when the formula works (better than any R-rated comedy in recent memory, save Bridesmaids), and when you have the caliber of comedic talent that The Hangover Part II enjoys, what’s the problem?

I’m not sure we need to order a third round anytime soon, but rest assured that you won’t wake up reaching for the aspirin.

3.5/5 stars