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“T2 Trainspotting” wears out its welcome slowly, like a group of old men running out of stories to tell in an afternoon pub.

Maybe that’s harsh, but the movie asks for it. In 1996, the original “Trainspotting” hit moviegoers like an M-80 tossed off a roof: a roistering, horrifying, tragicomic tale of Edinburgh junkies, courtesy of novelist Irvine Welsh, screenwriter John Hodge, and director Danny Boyle. The film, Boyle’s second, kicked his career into orbit; it made Ewan McGregor a star; the best-selling soundtrack put Underworld and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” into a million CD players. The dive into the toilet? The baby on the ceiling? Etched into our collective cinematic consciousness. I watched the movie again last week, and it’s as vicious and alive as ever.


Why a sequel? Because Welsh has revisited the characters in subsequent novels? Because Boyle and Hodge and the cast felt like a reunion? Because someone thought there’d be money in it? Or because a bleak comedy about what happens to high-flying boys when they fall into compromised middle age might be worth a go?

“T2 Trainspotting” works that last motif for about two-thirds of its running time, with stirring and raucously funny results that bounce off our affection for the original. Mark Renton (McGregor) returns to Edinburgh from Amsterdam in the opening scenes, clean for two decades but not quite the success he’d have us believe. His one-time best friend and shooting partner Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) now goes by Simon and runs a run-down pub when he’s not blackmailing local officials with a hotel room porn setup.

The runty Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the only one of the gang still struggling with heroin addiction, and he’s just about at the end of the line; his reacquaintance with Mark delivers both a jolt of real pathos and a gross-out gag to stand with the first film.


Simon hasn’t forgiven his friend for disappearing with that gym bag full of pound notes at the end of “Trainspotting,” so their reconnection is, shall we say, strained. Much worse is in store if Mark runs into the sociopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle), the first film’s comic attack dog who is conveniently (if not permanently) in jail when the movie opens.

As long as the movie sticks to being a study of entropy — of run-down characters and burnt-out place — it’s quite marvelous. The soundtrack chimes every so often with chords from the old songs and there’s the sense of reprobates turning warily toward each other to see if there’s anything to be salvaged from their friendships and lives. Everyone’s slower of step, including Boyle, whose hyperactive style has served him exhaustingly well in movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” but who eases down to a breathless trot befitting characters who are in their 40s and in no good shape.

Yet “T2 Trainspotting” increasingly insists on having a plot, something about Mark and Simon going into business on an upscale brothel along with a young Bulgarian hooker named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), with whom Simon is in love and Mark would just like to bed. “She’s too young for you,” warns Diane (Kelly Macdonald), Mark’s schoolgirl crush from “Trainspotting,” now an upscale attorney, and she’s correct in ways that don’t work to the film’s advantage.

The new film reaches its black-hearted peak around the time Simon and Mark crash a pub party for descendants of the Protestant victors of 1690’s Battle of the Boyne. As they work their way through handbags and coat pockets and ultimately improvise a profane anti-Catholic singalong, “T2” stakes a claim for old enmities that never, ever die and are sometimes the only things that keep us alive.


After that, sadly, the movie itself begins dying from a superfluity of events. Begbie reappears with a ferocity that suggests we’re watching “Terminator 2” instead, Spud blossoms against all belief into the group’s literary conscience, and various double-crosses and triple-crosses bring the film down to the level of a halfhearted thriller. If “Trainspotting” was very much about the ecstasies and terrors of living for the moment, the sequel — any sequel — is about what happens after the moment has passed. “T2” only succeeds when it addresses the passing acridly and head-on.

★ ★ ½
T2 Trainspotting

Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by John Hidge, based on novels by Irvine Welsh. Starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova. At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 118 min. R (drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and some violence). In Sco’ish, with occasional subtitles.

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com.