2012's Think Like a Man is, by and large, not a very good movie. But it does an absolutely fantastic impression of one, thanks to a game cast of very talented comic actors who don't get very much work in major movies owing to their unbankable skin color, all of them working double-time to flesh out the basic notion of their various characters with depth and personality, giving the film a genuinely appealing "let's hang out" vibe that mostly compensates for its essentialist gender representations and stock romantic comedy plot points. It leaves no indication that we need to care about any of these people any longer, but they're mostly likable enough that a chance to hang out with them even longer isn't an inherently awful idea, and to test that theory, we now have Think Like a Man Too, and oh, fuck me, is it bad.

The cast is all back, but in the intervening two and a half years, one particular member of that cast has seen his movie career erupt: instead of a well-balanced ensemble comedy, the new film turns out to be the Kevin Hart show with an immensely well-stocked backdrop of Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, Jenifer Lewis, and so on. Hart's a fine, appealing comic presence and all, but it's a tragic waste to have all those people playing second bananas with one or two featured scenes and a lot of background action; and it's much, much worse for the women. No longer dedicated itself to illustrating the tenets of Steve Harvey's dubious relationship book in dramatic form, this sequel finds the core nonet headed to Las Vegas for the wedding of Michael (Terrence J) and Candace (Hall), where they are excited to hang out for the first time in ages and have naughty fun. Cedric (Hart), having accidentally appointed himself best man, has a particularly elaborate plan laid out for the boys' night, but the girls are right behind, just as soon as they figure out a way to ditch Candace's dour future mother-in-law Loretta (Lewis).

It's not particularly vile or destructive or wicked, or anything like that, but only by virtue of barely existing in the first place. For the most part, Think Like a Man Too - whose grammatically cryptic title is never explained or resolved in any way - consists of scenes of people riffing around in Vegas locations so pornographically product-placed that Caesar's Palace and Paris Las Vegas make more of an impression on the narrative than half of the named characters. Director Tim Story, who has officially not been visibly excited by the material he's making into a film for over ten years now, only really comes alive when the film drops off into extended musical moments: a generic montage here, a pot-fueled fantasy music video set to a rewritten version of the 1990 Bell Biv DeVoe song "Poison" starring all the girls there (the latter of these is, by a crazily lopsided margin, the most inspired, energetic, interesting thing that happens in the movie). Otherwise, he mostly just points the camera at group shots, occasionally providing enough footage for editor Peter S. Elliot to put together some bouncy visual jokes and high-spirited momentum, and mostly soak up the color and noise of Vegas without bothering to situated his characters much within that color.

The characters themselves are provided by writers Keith Merryman & David A. Newman with absolutely nothing original or challenging to do (the film throws a litany of relationship issues that reek with age - their career paths are heading in different directions! she wants a baby but he doesn't! she can't handle knowing how much sex he used to have! - and could possibly be argued to be lazy gender-derived stereotypes, except that engaging with Think Like a Man Too on that level means that you let it win; nothing about the movie demands or benefits from being treated like an actual social document instead of just a lazy summertime cash-in on a surprise hit). That means the actors have nothing original or challenging to, and while some of them are more invested in making an impression regardless - it's like the film tosses us a life preserve any time Henson or Hall shows up - there's absolutely none of the breath of life into stock characters that there was in the first movie. The clichΓ©d, derivative situations are thus left to die on their own, and the film's outlandishly PG-13 idea of Vegas debauchery - the movie desperately wants to play in The Hangover's sandbox, but it hasn't remotely the same killer instinct - is so sanded down and unimaginative that it calls even more attention to how utterly generic every beat of the whole thing is.

We have here a pristine example of... not exactly inspiration vs. mercenary instincts. Think Like a Man wasn't coming from a place of extreme artistic passion, but it was well-meant if ridiculously old-fashioned, and the actors and directors were committed to making it closer to the best iteration of itself than the worst. Think Like a Man Too is a textbook sequel: recycling character beats, tossing in fake conflict, amping up the elements of the first that seem to be the most marketable regardless of whether or not the drama benefits from it. I would be lying if I said that I'd though much, or at all, about the characters since the first movie was in theaters, but having had a chance to revisit them, I'm terribly sad that they didn't have more interesting, invigorating problems in their lives. And I certainly wish that the talents of the cast hadn't been spent in service to what seems, from the available footage, to have been a somewhat irritating working vacation in a glitzy pleasure spot that nobody was hugely enthusiastic to visit.

4/10