By Eric Kelsey
BEVERLY HILLS Calif. (Reuters) - The boisterous pint-sized Kevin Hart never had to venture too far afield to find the source for the happily single Cedric cursed with bad luck in comedy "Think Like a Man Too," which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.
The comedian known for his spark-plug energy found his \character hidden within a longtime friend.
"My friend Jamal has been a loser since day one," Hart said. "I've never seen anybody with worse luck. That's Cedric. He's that guy."
Hart reprises the role of the good-intentioned but snake-bitten Cedric in the follow-up to 2012's "Think Like a Man," an ensemble comedy from "Fantastic Four" filmmaker Tim Story that brings couples - and a few singles - together in Las Vegas.
It is guys versus girls in dueling bachelor and bachelorette parties ahead of the wedding between single mom Candace (Regina Hall) and Michael (Terrence J), who has to stand up to his over-bearing mother's not-so-subtle disapproval.
Each couple has their own problems with trust, children or balancing professional ambition with love.
But it is Hart's Cedric - happily on a trial separation from his wife - whose mission to deliver the best bachelor party for Michael goes off course. True to his character study, he fails and flails his way through Sin City's poolside cabanas, blackjack tables and clubs until everyone winds up in jail.
"In acting, you have to pull from real-life situations, from people, to help develop a character," Hart said.
"I'm not Russell Crowe. I'm not going to do a period piece. I can't go and change and 'thou' or 'thy,'" he added. "What I do know are the different personalities that I've come across ... that's why Cedric is crazy but grounded enough to believe."
"Think Like a Man Too," distributed by Sony's Screen Gems, also trumpets Hart's ascension to one of Hollywood's leading comedic actors. It is his third starring role in the past six months following Story's buddy-cop hit "Ride Along" and romantic comedy "About Last Night."
The film is expected to gross a respectable $32 million in its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com, on a budget of $24 million. Its predicted total ticket sales of $83 million would fall short of the original's $91.5 million.
Because the film was shot on a tight schedule to accommodate its large cast, which also features the likes of Gabrielle Union and Jerry Ferrara of TV's "Entourage," more than half of the script ended up being improvised, said Romany Malco, who plays former romancer Zeke.
"We had to create the material as we were making it," he said, adding that locations were often improvised too as casino owners would sometimes refuse to let a planned shoot go ahead.
"It's done over and over until it's right," Malco said. "That's what writing is: rewriting. So we were actually re-writing on set all day, every day."
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Andrew Hay)