[9 October 2013]
For years, film studios have been operating under an illusion that produces an affliction commonly referred to as “sequelitis”. In case you’re unaware, sequelitis refers to the practice of producing a disappointing follow-up to a successful original picture. There are countless examples, and many of the films suffering from sequelitis have a common symptom; They’re made under the assumption that more—and bigger—is always better. This is certainly the case for The Hangover franchise, a series so far removed from its original inception it’s borderline unrecognizable.
The original Hangover was based on a simple concept executed perfectly by a crew of likable funnymen. Three guys throw a bachelor party gone awry, forget what happened, and are forced to remember in order to find their missing friend. Sure, there were shenanigans (a missing tooth) and unexpected guests (Mike Tyson and his tiger), but everything in the film fell under what I’d call extreme plausibility. You may not go to Vegas and break into Mike Tyson’s house, but you could certainly marry a stripper, destroy your hotel suite, and lose a friend.
The story was relatable, even if a tad out there. By The Hangover: Part II, nothing was plausible except Zach Galifianakis’ shaved head (which looked rather good, in my opinion). Stu’s face tattoo? Doubtful. Naked Chow? In my nightmares. By the time they get to the strip club, all hope for any sense of attachment has been banished by the puerile nature of the Wolfpack’s second outing.
For the most part, The Hangover: Part III avoids the overly crude humor of its immediate predecessor, but it isn’t above making callbacks to those horrific events. Unlike The Hangover: Part II, a carbon copy of the original in its premise, The Hangover: Part III avoids the repetition by switching genres. It’s not so much a comedy as an action movie. A tepid thriller. A unbalanced drama, even. Basically, any way you look at it other than as a comedy helps the 100 minutes go down more easily. Why? It’s none too funny for a black comedy, and it’s extra black.
The excessive darkness haunting parts II and III is courtesy of director Todd Phillips, and also the most troubling aspect of the sequels’ “bigger is better” mentality. Phillips, who began his career with delightful laughers only accented by blackness (think Will Ferrell in Old School), has faded fully to black by The Hangover: Part III. It may have started with the original Hangover—properly tucked away behind an authentic visage of “real men”—but it was drawn out by the devastating events making up Due Date and Part II, his two follow-up films.
When reviewing the 2010 road trip comedy, I discussed Robert Downey Jr.’s borderline anti-hero lead before stating the following: “This did not keep me from enjoying the hell out of the movie… It’s dark comedy, but it’s true comedy. It’s realistic, which isn’t the word immediately springing to mind for a movie featuring a masturbating dog. Still, it applies.” The same could certainly not be said for either of the Hangover sequels.
The Wolfpack is no longer a hodgepodge group of identifiable friends, but a twisted sect practicing such destructive behavior they’re forced to spend time apart (the latter alone makes it nearly impossible to support their adventures). What brings them together this time is Alan, the group’s founder and cause to every unfortunate effect plaguing the group.
Alan becomes such a burden on his parents he actually kills one of them, causing an intervention on the part of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha). While on the way to Alan’s rehab facility, the plot takes a turn towards the ridiculous when the group’s car is run off the road by a ripped-off gangster (John Goodman) looking for their repeated colleague, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).
Mr. Chow, who opens and closes the film, is arguably the real star of The Hangover III. I don’t mean he steals scenes with laughs, charm, or appeal. Far from it. Mr. Chow is the one who drives the action forward. He gets a hefty chunk of screentime, and he gets to tell most of the “jokes”. It’s Alan’s character who gets most of the development, but Mr. Chow who is constantly… there.
There’s some offense to Mr. Jeong when I say he’s not the reason we’re watching. He’s actually one of the reasons I no longer want to watch. The irritating, loud, and consistently unfunny character outgrew his limited appeal (and limited initial screen time) early on in Part II, yet he’s taken over the franchise by its end. It’s not a wise choice, and it proves extremely costly for the uneven final entry.
Phillips, an accomplished and serious comedic director, never grasped the concept that less can, in fact, be more. Or if he did, it was too late to help The Hangover. It would have benefitted the story’s bizarre, genre-warping plot; the bleak nature of its characters; and it certainly would have helped my enjoyment had there been much less Mr. Chow. While it doesn’t matter much considering the poor quality of the feature film, the disc’s bonus features also adhere to the director’s “more is better” philosophy. This time it’s a good thing, or would be if anyone liked the film enough to watch them.
The most work was put into a six-minute featurette titled “Replacing Zach: The Secret Auditions”, a one-note joke on a fake plan to replace Zach Galifianakis for The Hangover Part III. Despite cameos from Jason Sudeikis, Bobby Moynihan, Rachael Harris, Nick Cassavetes, and more, the bit only provides a few chuckles.
The same goes for the two-three minute videos of Galifianakis rambling, the extended scenes, and the cast and crew discussing the difficulties of working with animals and kids. “The Wolfpack’s Wildest Stunts” is a five-minute look at the inner workings of the action scenes, while “Action Mash-Up” quickly cuts together every violent scene from the film. Finally, I can’t speak of “Inside Focus: The Real Chow”, because five more minutes of the character is simply more than I could bear. Watch at your own risk.