Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Hangover Part III

Written for F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, John Goodman
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 100 mins
Opens: 30 May 2013
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language and Some Nudity)

Remember when The Hangover wasn’t a thing? When it was just a sleeper hit that came out of almost nowhere and reinvigorated the R-rated comedy genre? Then remember when the second film squandered almost all the goodwill the first had earned? Now, the Wolf Pack has re-awoken with the hope that it’s third time lucky in this self-proclaimed “epic conclusion to the Hangover trilogy”.

The first two films started with preparations for a wedding, so perhaps it’s apt that this time around, it’s a funeral that kicks things off. Man-child Alan (Galifianakis) is off his medication and making life as difficult for those around him as ever, an incident involving a giraffe and his father’s (Jeffrey Tambor) heart attack afterwards being the final straws. His friends Doug (Bartha), Stu (Helms) and Phil (Cooper) decide to stage an intervention, taking Alan to a treatment facility in Arizona where he can get better. However, the plan gets derailed: drug lord Marshall (Goodman) confronts the Wolf Pack and holds Doug hostage. “International criminal” Leslie Chow (Jeong) is to blame, having made away with Marshall’s gold bars, and the guys are sent in pursuit of Chow, leading them back to where it all began: Las Vegas.

It’s been noted that the Hangover movies should’ve stopped at just one, and perhaps that’s true: that first movie did, after all, have something of a lightning-in-a-bottle quality to it. Alas, the franchise potential was just too enticing, particularly after The Hangover became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy at the time. It did seem rather hubristic that the second film traced over the first one so blatantly, just setting in Thailand. Come now, a sequel that’s a retread of the original with a change in locale is something one would expect from a direct-to-DVD follow-up.

It’s with mixed results then that the formula has been ditched, in favour of a different formula: that of the caper/chase movie. An actual hangover doesn’t kickstart the events in The Hangover Part III, rendering it an artifact title. This one ventures into more dramatic territory and there seem to be actual stakes and important plot events instead of travelling from one crude sight gag to the next. Is it completely devoid of laughs? No, but audiences going into this expecting a third serving of wanton ribaldry will be at least a little disappointed. Leave the Vegas heisting to Danny Ocean and his 11+, guys.

There are some pretty fun set pieces: the mean streak running through Part II is evident with the ill-fated giraffe, Mr. Chow gets to do a spot of BASE jumping, the Wolf Pack has to break into a manor in Mexico and there’s even bedsheet abseiling. The thing is, director Todd Phillips and company are not always able to keep their footing in their attempt to change things up yet not stray too far from the selling points of the series.

Something that afflicted The Hangover Part II and that gets a reprise here is what we call “breakout character-itis”. A character in a minor role – Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow, in this case – is well-received by audiences and becomes popular, so the producers ramp up his screen time and give him more wacky antics, not knowing that the character worked best in small doses. Jeong’s shrill, obnoxious shtick does very nearly wear out its welcome on several occasions. He’s also been oddly upgraded from incompetent goofball to something of a criminal mastermind.

Nothing much has changed with the Wolf Pack themselves. Galifianakis does get a nice assortment of forehead-slapping silliness, Helms is a serviceable lily-livered straight man, Brad-make that Academy Award-nominated Bradley Cooper doesn’t really look like he wants to be there, and Justin Bartha sits out the bulk of it just as he did before. John Goodman is a welcome addition but alas, just like Paul Giamatti in Part II, his talents are wasted in a small role.

The Hangover Part III is an improvement over its immediate predecessor, and isn’t so much bad as it is very middle of the road. It doesn’t blindly try to shock at every turn and there is more of a plot, but it’s hard to say if this was a step in the right direction. What is nice is that there are continuity nods aplenty and an effort is made to link this film back to the previous two. For example, Heather Graham returns for a cameo and baby Tyler/Carlos from the first movie shows up as a five year-old, played by Grant Holmquist – who, along with his twin sister Avery, played the baby in the first film. He even gets a sweet/awkward moment with Alan, who fondly recalls the adventures the Wolf Pack shared with this “wolf cub”.

As a conclusion to the series however, The Hangover Part III doesn’t seem to wrap things up, and a mid-credits stinger rather blatantly leaves the door wide open for a potential Part IV. There’s no finality to this one really, and there’s the hard-to-shake feeling that studio executives want to cling on to the Hangover brand and continue to wring whatever’s left out of it. Still, this is a fairly entertaining diversion and definitely better than Part II. We do wish they visited Amsterdam for this one though.

SUMMARY: A middling effort that has several entertaining moments, but doesn’t quite pass muster as a triumphant send-off for the Wolf Pack.

RATING: 3 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong


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