Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Changing Up the Formula Proves Problematic for 'The Hangover Part III'

The Hangover Part III misguidedly turns Chow into a lead and becomes a
heist movie.
In the lead up to The Hangover Part III, director Todd Phillips defended the preceding entry in the series to Empire, saying "Yes we do a wake-up and a blackout, but every joke in Hangover II is completely different. My feeling is that it's better [than the first movie]. I think it's human nature that any time people want to try something for a second time, people go to a negative. I think in five or ten year's time, people will come to realize how brilliant Hangover II is." 

Before commenting on the specifics of such a comment, I should mention that I concur with Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson’s assessment that it is refreshing to see a filmmaker stand by his film, as opposed to shitting on it as a way to sell the next one as an improvement.

Having said that, I do believe most of what Phillips says is nonsense. The second movie is not better than the first, and a majority of the jokes are pointedly the same (as shown in this Vulture piece). For that reason, Phillips was lambasted for making a lazy carbon copy of the original, instead of trying to evolve the story and do something different.

The Hangover Part III seems to be a direct answer to that criticism.  Although Doug (Justin Bartha) is left to the side once again, the movie attempts to switch up the formula. The lead trio is not drugged and they do not spend the movie trying to piece together what happened the night before (despite the title, there is no hangover). Instead, the minor role of Chow (Ken Jeong) is beefed up and action and heist elements are grafted onto the story.

Melissa McCarthy lends the film some much needed humor in her few scenes.
All of this proves a massive misstep. As Community has already proven, Jeong is best used in small doses, and yet here, he’s arguably co-lead with Zach Galifianakis. In fact, the first five minutes of the movie are spent with him, and he is the catalyst for the entire plot, which finds our heroes caught in the middle of his feud with a gangster (John Goodman) over $42 million in gold bars.

Making matters worse, the film is rarely funny, occasionally saccharine and often infuriating. Watching Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) attempt to discover what happened during a crazy night with Alan (Galifianakis) as an oddball tagalong is a good time. Watching them constantly being outsmarted by a crazy psychopath like Chow, only to feel sympathy for him even though they know he’s a double-crossing murderer? Not so much.

Having seen Part III, I find myself appreciating the second film more than I originally did. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it brilliant, it is a funny film, and there is something to be said for the way it unashamedly mimics the first one, while simultaneously escalating the events and self destruction to gonzo, nightmarish heights. It’s a sequel that almost plays like a remake, albeit one with more money and more freedom to go full hog. In that way, it’s sort of like Evil Dead 2.

Meanwhile, outside of a few random bits of awkward inanity from Galifianakis, Part III is a just a limp exercise. It’s telling that the biggest laughs come courtesy of a 90-second credit sequence that offers an intentionally derivative glimpse of a morning after hangover following another night of revelry. Hangover films work better with a hangover. Go figure. D+