May 22, 2013

THE HANGOVER PART III Brings The Trilogy To A Dramatically Satisfying Close

"You don't talk to madness."
Comedy sequels are usually pretty crap.

The Hangover was an absolute MONSTER hit, grossing close to a half a billion dollars.  That kind of success is hard to follow, and even though Part II ended up making even more money, it was generally considered to be a creative misstep.  The movie is structurally almost identical to it's predecessor, albeit set in a more exotic location and with gags that are even more disgusting and psychotic.  With this third entry, I think audiences might be a bit trepidatious, fearful that they're going to see the same story told with diminishing returns, but let me assure you that is most definitely not the case.  The Hangover Part III is a very different beast.  How different?

Well for one thing, they dropped the central conceit of the entire franchise.

Let's back up.  The first film leans heavily on Bradley Cooper's Phil as the take-charge cool guy who's determined to follow the clues to find the missing groom while Part II focuses on Ed Helms's Stu (and the demon inside him) as he learns to grow a pair and take charge of his life.  Part III therefore centers on Zach Galifianakis's Allen, an almost literal manchild who needs to grow up once and for all.  Following a completely insane opening stunt with a giraffe, Allen's father (Jeffrey Tambor) dies of a heart attack and everyone decides that the only way to help Allen turn his life around is for The Wolfpack to drive him to rehab in Arizona.  But they're quickly run off the road by Marshall, a gangster played by John Goodman who's looking for $21 million in gold that was stolen by Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong).  After breaking out of a Bangkok prison (with a nice little nod to Shawshank) Chow has dropped off the grid and Marshall is convinced that The Wolfpack are the only ones who can find him.  So he kidnaps Doug* as collateral and gives the guys three days to find Chow and hand him over.

From there it's a mad scramble to track down Chow and the gold, a journey that will take them through the deserts of Mexico and ultimately all the way back to Las Vegas.  There are plenty of extremely funny set pieces, including a really fantastically staged bit with Galifianakis dangling from the roof of Caesar's Palace ("Did you guys know this whole place is made of marbles?") and a bizarrely adorable scene with a pawnbroker played by Melissa McCarthy.  All the laughs are there and each of the three leads is just as sharp as ever.  Ken Jeong's Chow is the true embodiment of depraved chaos, a cocaine-fueled black hole of destruction.  A lot of viewers seem to be pretty burnt out on Jeong's particular brand of comedy, but this is easily some of the best work he's done to date.  He's not just over the top silly (although he's that too) but Chow's got a real darkness to him that Jeong embraces to wonderful effect in a few key scenes.

While the previous entries are pretty much non-stop crazy hijinks, this latest film actually has strong sense of pathos throughout.  That's not to say it's not a funny movie, because it very much is, but the overall tone is very different from the first two adventures.  For one thing, people fucking die in this movie, whereas the other movies are just filled with hilarious maiming.  Not only that, but the death isn't played for laughs; when they witness a character get brutally gunned down in front of them, the Wolfpack is appropriately disturbed.  That's indicative of the larger stylistic shift of this movie.  Giraffe scene aside, the plethora of sophomoric gross-out gags have been replaced by a fairly dramatic character journey on the part of Allen as he searches to find some way to come to grips with the idea of living a normal life.  There's a really funny yet moving scene where the guys go back to visit Heather Graham's prostitute character and Allen comes face to face with the one-time Baby Carlos, now five year old Tyler. (In a nice nod, he's played by one of the same infants who played Carlos in the first movie.)  Allen looks astonished to see how Carlos/Tyler has grown into a little person, almost as if Allen expected him to stay a baby forever.  It's a big moment for Allen and Galifianakis plays it beautifully.  Galifianakis has always been face of this franchise, but it's here that he's revealed as the heart and soul of the trilogy as well.

Director Todd Phillips took a lot of shit for Part II, accused of making the same movie in a different setting a` la Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.  In a weird way, I think that Part III actually turns The Hangover franchise into a sort of sly deconstruction of the fundamentals of all trilogies.  Part I is a strong comedy based on a simple conceit (everyone gets accidentally drugged and someone is missing!) and Part II relies on the same story but pushes the gags way over the top.  (Face tattoo!  Monkey!  Severed finger!)  Part III forgoes most of the shocking humor in favor of stronger storytelling.  And, in typical third-movie fashion, the film bends over backwards to tie everything back to the first movie and bring back as many familiar faces as possible.  That's not a complaint.  In fact, I think it's kind of great, and in a way it almost redeems Part II.  Almost.   I don't know why, but in a weird way the whole thing reminds me of the Back To The Future trilogy.

I'm curious to see how folks react to this last entry.  My sense is that the word of mouth after Star Trek Into Darkness's premiere has been muddled enough that there'll be substantial drop off at the box office, but THe Hangover is also opening opposite Fast & Furious 6, which I suspect will ending up being a bigger box office draw.  (I am 100% unironically excited about FF6.  I'm not quite sure how that happened.)  But this is a long holiday weekend, so I have no doubt that The Hangover will rake in plenty of cash for Warner Brothers and continue to do so in the coming weeks.  Even folks who were unhappy with Part II will probably still show up for this one because the comedy potential here has pretty much no ceiling.  That said, I think most audiences will be pretty surprised by what they find here; I had no idea what to expect going in, but it certainly wasn't a darkly comic character piece about learning to embrace maturity in the face of madness.  I say it's a fitting close to the franchise, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm in the minority there.

Final note: I saw this at an advanced screening that was largely for press and some sponsors.  (There were two rows of seats reserved with Samsung signs, so I expected to see everyone in the movie using a Galaxy S4 or something.  If they did, I missed it.)  The only seats available for general pass holders were the top three rows of the theater and all the lower floor seats that require you to tilt your head back at a ninety degree angle.  Thankfully I got a good seat in the back, but I was surrounded by people who spent the whole movie talking at full volume, predicting what was about to happen and describing in detail how they would have acted differently from the characters.  I will NEVER understand that shit.  I loooooove seeing movies on the biggest screen possible in a theater packed full of people.  It's how movies were made to be seen and I will defend real theatrical exhibition to my dying breath.  But these people are half the reason that so many folks would rather wait to watch a movie at home.  The theater is not your living room.  It's not a place for talking and tweeting.  Children can master this concept with ease, so I'm baffled when grown adults can't seem to wrap their heads around it.

It usually takes every ounce of my willpower not to turn around and yell at the offender and while stifling that impulse is not always successful, this time I remained polite and focused on the film at hand.  Amazingly I was still able to enjoy the movie, but I was annoyed enough that I left the theater while the credits were still rolling and apparently I missed out on a pretty great stinger.  In my defense, there was no "Hey, I just found my camera, let's look at these pictures" moment at the end, so I figured it was probably safe to exit.  I should have known better.  Guess I'll have to try and catch the end of a screening next time I'm at the theater.

Thanks a lot, loud assholes.

*I can't wait for the inevitable Hangover spin-off franchise, The Fantastic Adventures Of White Doug.

Title: The Hangover Part III
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifinakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Regal Cinemas Fenway

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