And I told myself I wouldn’t laugh.
“Think Like a Man Too,” the derivative, intermittently amusing follow-up to the surprise hit rom-com from 2012, is so frenetically paced and hysterically pitched that it makes almost no room for simple enjoyment. Propelled by a screaming voice-over performance from Kevin Hart and director Tim Story’s hyper-emphatic approach to everything from line readings to editing and music, this ensemble enterprise — about four couples experiencing the ups and downs of girl-guy relationships — comes at the audience like a fire hose, assaulting them with endless chatter and parallel action until we just want to beg everyone involved simply to slow down and let themselves breathe.
“Just stop,” one character tells Cedric, the obnoxious motormouth played by Hart. And we know how that person feels: Hart, a practitioner of the love-him-or-shrug brand of stand-up comedy, becomes such a grating presence that it’s a relief when “Think Like a Man Too” allows him brief respites offstage. But then, out of nowhere, he pops up with a piece of physical comedy too hilarious to be denied — specifically, a sight gag involving a bar brawl, a mug shot and a sexy Bam-Bam costume that must be seen to be fully appreciated.
Such are the uneven but distinctive pleasures of “Think Like a Man Too,” which finds the original film’s accomplished, spectacularly attractive cast still young and gorgeous two years down the road. Dominic and Lauren (Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson) are happily ensconced as a couple, their class differences settled for the moment; college sweethearts Jeremy and Kristen (Jerry Ferrara, Gabrielle Union) are trying for a baby, at least in between Jeremy’s bong hits; Zeke and Mya (Romany Malco, Meagan Good) are still together, despite Zeke’s checkered past as a quintessential player; and Michael and Candace (Terrence Jenkins, Regina Hall) are getting married — in Las Vegas, where the whole crew has gathered for the ceremony and night-before festivities. (In case viewers were hoping for fresh, original writing, Hart disabuses that optimism within the first few seconds of “Think Like a Man Too,” during which he invokes the “Disneyland for adults” and “what stays in Vegas” cliches in rapid-fire succession.)
That eventful evening forms the antic, frantic backdrop for “Think Like a Man Too,” which is structured around dueling bachelor/hen parties. In the guys’ case, this means tequila shots, strip clubs and a raging after-party; as for the laydeez, it’s all tea cakes and pedicures until one of them commandeers the boys’ limo and the sisters give the dudes a raunchy run for their money.
Like the first film — based on Steve Harvey’s self-help book “Act Like a Lady But Think Like a Man” — this installment falls prey to all manner of gender stereotypes. The men are either commitment-phobic or see marriage, fatherhood and domestication as toxic threats to their masculinity; the women are the buzz-kills, either barking out orders on when to have sex for maximum fertilization, or comparing, and complaining about, sexual pasts.
Those war-of-the-sexes tropes are tiresome, for sure, as are the obvious lifts from such predecessors as “The Hangover,” “Bridesmaids” and “Magic Mike.” But that’s not to say that “Think Like a Man Too” doesn’t occasionally generate its own laughs, especially during a hard-partying sequence that devolves into an improvised Bell Biv DeVoe video. One of the steadiest sources of humor is Gary Owen, who, with Wendi McLendon-Covey, plays a couple tagging along for the ride, and who delivers some funny wholesome-minded zingers, culminating in a Ray Lewis-
inspired aria delivered by way of a jail-cell phone.
A couple of big-name cameos notwithstanding, there’s nothing surprising about “Think Like a Man Too,” but that predictability may well ensure its success with the audience that made the original such a huge hit. Despite Story’s desperate attempts to cover a superficial plot and weak writing with a jacked-up vibe and sheer volume, the movie still ultimately lands like a thinly veiled lecture, with Hart helpfully delivering the moral upshot — about compromise, sacrifice and letting go of the past — just in case someone in the audience accidentally ingested one of Jeremy’s THC-infused breath strips.
“Think Like a Man Too” is nothing if not emphatic: Why choose to underline, italicize or put something in bold when you can do all three?
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, profanity and drug material. 105 minutes.