The opening minutes of the Broken Lizard comedy “Super Troopers 2” are so breathlessly funny they might asphyxiate you. The scene begins with a familiar set-up — a Vermont Highway Patrolman pulls over a vehicle full of pot smokers — and then ploughs through one outlandish reversal after another.
The unwritten history between the first “Super Troopers” and the second is absurdly revealed, and the returning characters from the original get aggrandized to such an outrageous extent that it somehow comes across as ironic self-flagellation.
It comes as no surprise that “Super Troopers 2” cannot maintain either that opening scene’s pace or its hilarity. That degree of madcap inanity could probably never be sustained over long periods of time without becoming exhausting. At some point the actual “movie” part of this new “Super Troopers” movie has to begin, and once it does, the whole film starts to tumble steadily downhill.
The first “Super Troopers” told the story of a group of Vermont state troopers who had so little responsibility that they pulled people over for no reason just to play whimsical improv games. They bantered, they slapsticked, and they eventually solved a big case, which proved that they weren’t totally incompetent at their jobs. It’s not a complicated movie, but it’s a likable one, and a sequel was probably inevitable. If anything, it’s hard to believe it took 17 years.
“Super Troopers 2” picks up with our heroes at an all-time low. A mysterious incident in their past has destroyed their law enforcement careers, but they are brought back together again by a bizarre revelation: a small chunk of Canada along the Vermont border has, due to an oversight, actually been part of America all this time. A police force is needed to help make the transition, and every other cop in Vermont already has their own territory, so the troopers are the only ones available to take the gig on short notice.
So it is that Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), Foster (Paul Soter), Mac (Steve Lemme) and Captain O’Hagan (Brian Cox) get their badges back. Unfortunately, nobody told the governor not to invite Rod Farva (Kevin Heffernan), one of the most horrible human beings on the planet, so he also returns to the force and quickly becomes the bane of everyone’s existence.
Scholarly papers should be written about the comedic versatility of a character like Farva. He’s such an off-putting oaf, and such a spiteful and sexist scumbag, that he can be the butt of literally any joke, no matter how cruel or violent, and it seems relatively fair. As a bonus, he makes all the other characters look better by comparison, so much so that he heroes of “Super Troopers” and “Super Troopers 2” perhaps only look heroic by virtue of the fact they are literally standing next to Farva.
Every time Farva says or does something over the line — like uncomfortably ogle their cultural attaché, Genevieve (Emmanuelle Chriqui) — the rest of the troopers get to tsk-tsk and say he’s taken the joke too far. But of course, Farva makes that kind of joke all the time. The inescapable irony is that Broken Lizard doesn’t disapprove enough to actually stop telling Farva’s jokes. They’re constantly trying to get away with making those jokes by saying they definitely shouldn’t be making them.
This anything-goes mentality steadily drags down “Super Troopers 2.” The film’s jokes about the differences between Canada and the United States are arch, and rather dumb. The troopers spend some time joking about Canadian clichés, like how nice everyone is and how they pronounce the word “sorry,” so it’s kind of funny when they realize that the stereotyping goes both ways. The Canadian Mounties they’re replacing — Podien (Hayes MacArthur), Bellefuille (Tyler Labine) and Archambault (Will Sasso) — have just as many tacky generalizations to make about Americans, and watching an entire roomful of Canadians make fun of the way Americans pronounce “sorry,” for once, is fair play if nothing else.
But as the troopers go about their business, investigating a smuggling operation and pulling their trademark pranks, it becomes clear that although Broken Lizard are too talented and likable to make a film entirely without laughs, they can’t entirely coast on charm and skillful comic timing.
The Canadian-stereotype gags are pervasive to the point that they eventually play less like good-natured ribbing and more like lazy joke-writing and willful ignorance. An ill-advised storyline about Thorny taking female hormone pills goes to every predictable, disappointing place you’d expect it to. And even the bread and butter of the “Super Troopers” movies, those wacky traffic stops, are a heck of a lot less funny than they ever were, because the real-world corollaries are inescapable and disturbing.
“Super Troopers 2” plays like a relic of the rowdy summer-camp movies, mostly of the 1980s, when characters who were objectively jerks could still seem like heroes if they punched upwards, at an establishment so stuffy they made any form of rebellion look noble. What “Super Troopers 2” is missing, and what the original more-or-less had, is that underdog dynamic. A big part of the problem is that the troopers are in charge this time, and they’re mostly just abusing their power for petty, selfish reasons.
So even though they sometimes land a great joke, the troopers aren’t inherently amusing or even all that likable this time around. They’re undeniably corrupt cops, even if they are relatively benign about it. “Super Troopers 2” still manages to be funny quite a bit of the time, but the word “funny” needs an asterisk next to it, warning that the laughs might carry with them a certain amount of guilt.