The Hangover Part III
While it made a huge wad of cash, the second Hangover movie roundly took a beating from critics (and had a mixed reception from audiences). It was virtually the same as the first one, they decried. Presumably Todd Phillips was listening, which is why he eschews the (surely essential?) memory-defective structure in favour of something more linear. And more run-of-the-mill. The response wasn’t good; it took $200m less than its predecessor worldwide. And I can quite see why. Part III may not be a terrible movie but crucially neither is it a terribly funny one.
For my part, I rather like Part II. I’m not sure why rehashing the premise of the original was considered such a cardinal crime (since most sequels are guilty of the same), and the picture zips along crudely and colourfully. I was unconcerned that the characters weren’t likable; my only demand was for the film to be funny, which it was. So the complaints about the general air of unpleasantness and misanthropy were rather lost on me. It seemed no more offensive than the average US R-rated comedy, and the unsympathetic nature of the Wolf Pack (Alan – Zach Galifianakis, Phil – Bradley Cooper, and Stu – Ed Helms) felt more like a debauched spin on the “learn nothing” premise of Seinfeld than a portend of the downfall of western civilisation.
Part III, shorn of its morning-after set up, has to cast about for another motor to drive its plot. So Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin turn to perceived audience favourite Mr Chow (Ken Jeong). He busts out of a Thai prison, and goes to ground. Crime lord Marshall (John Goodman) is out to get even with Chow, and demands that the Wolf Pack track him down. Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage as leverage (so keeping Bartha off screen for most of the movie is retained at least).
Chow’s role in Part II was beefed up, and here he is virtually a fourth member of the Pack. Unfortunately Chow requires decent scenarios if he’s not to become merely a shrill annoyance. There are occasional moments (singing Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt, screaming “I love cocaine” while paragliding, and a cut to him gleefully exclaiming “I’m out of my fucking mind”, just after the Wolf Pack have observed the same thing).
Galifianakis’ shtick is wearing a bit thin by this point also, and his attempts at humour fall mostly flat. Which sort of works in terms of the film’s bleak starting position (following the giraffe incident seen in the trailer, and his father’s death, an intervention is staged; the plan is to take Alan to a rehab facility). But the gags he is given are just lousy (he has a beautiful singing voice). It’s only when Alan meets Cassie (Melissa McCarthy) that Phillips and Mazin find something distinctive for the beardy-weirdy to do, even if the of whacky peas-in-a-pod soul mates subplot is desperately unoriginal.
Cooper and Helms barely register, with the latter’s antagonism towards Alan soon dropped (likewise, the theme that they don’t even really give a shit about Alan seems to have been forgotten by time of the end credits sequence). The former spends his time looking studly and not much else. The attempt to evoke the spirit of the previous movies by featuring an actual hangover during the end credits may barely justify the picture’s title, but it’s has a dreadfully weak “Look what they did this time!” punch line. If that’s the kind of comedy gold they had in reserve, it’s just as well Part III is played mostly straight.
Talking of which, what a complete waste of John Goodman. He’s a brilliantly funny actor so they stick him playing a sullen heavy? It’s nice to see the lovely Heather Graham again, but she only appears for five minutes. And well done for not finding a place for Mike Tyson (my ears still haven’t recovered from the assault he committed at the end of Part II).
Nevertheless, while I wish they hadn’t gone the route of making a crime picture, the picture itself isn’t unwatchable. Nor does it outstay its welcome; Phillips has kept each of his pictures around the 100-minute mark, and this is no exception. It’s probably the maximum length you want for a comedy (although, as I’ve said, this isn’t really a comedy... ) Phillips also continues to strive against the point-and-shoot approach found in most comedies. The Hangovers are some of the best looking US comedies around, and the director is consistently visually inventive; he needs to be, as the return to Las Vegas rather inhibits the possibilities (he really shone with the Thai locations in Part II).
So The Hangover Part III takes out the jokes that were the main attraction of the comedy franchise, and it even bypasses the titular physical state during the film proper. The characters have little place left to go, and the focus on Chow is a mistake in as much as it further accentuates these shortcomings. Whatever Phillips did, the critics were going to hate this movie, so it’s a shame he was so stung by Part II’s reception that he threw out the baby with the bath water. Perhaps he just wasn’t inspired to be funny. It’s hard to say if Part III would have been a bigger hit if it had repeated the formula; I know I’d have been happier, but audiences just weren’t there on opening weekend Perhaps it’s a case where the success of Part II didn’t reflect how it ultimately went down (see also Shrek 2 and Dead Man’s Chest). Or perhaps the public saw the ads and rightly decided the title was a great big fib.