28 May 2013

First Impressions: The Hangover: Part III

Well, it's time to throw this away.

Nah, there's still a Hangover: Amsterdam Vacation (2015) in there somewhere. Right?

Ultimately The Hangover: Part III (2013) so far is a massive disappointment at virtually every level. It only ever stood a slim chance at critical success, namely because the hard-R partying genre it created to acclaim with The Hangover (2009) quickly wore out its welcome. We talked at length at its limited shot at cultural success here, ultimately deciding that its fate would be interwoven with the franchise rather than standing out on its own. Its commercial success, though, seemed all but guaranteed after The Hangover: Part II (2011) defied expectations and soared to almost accomplishing the fate of its predecessor, despite virtually containing the exact same plot.

Flabbey Road
At this point, however, Part III has grossed half of what Part II took in over the same time span and doesn't look to make up ground anytime soon. What happened? Furious 6 (2013), for one, which had glorious reviews, a real positive energy, and a predecessor that was almost universally judged as the best in a decade-old franchise. What hurt Part III the greatest, though, was the fact that it just wasn't that funny. It broke away from nearly every convention and conceit of the first two films, but neglected to replace any of it with any substance worthwhile. The plot still resembles the first two films, but it's trying so hard not to be. Also, with much of the marketing plugging this thing as some sort of ultimate finale akin to The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or something, it feels largely episodic rather than final. Needless to say, thar be SPOILERS from here on out, chaps.

There's a funny thing about expectations this summer. Nearly every major movie released so far has blatantly toyed and defied them, notably the double-punch of villain mishandling seen in Iron Man 3 (2013) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Ironically or not, that's about the one thing that Part III gets right - John Goodman as the villain Marshall (spun off, somewhat naturally and brilliantly from a throwaway line spoken by Black Doug in The Hangover), is about the only one in the cast that really knocks things out of the park here. In doing so, he's about the best villain of Summer so far in a Summer where every film is built on them. I'm sure Bane or the Joker, by the way, have nothing to do with that current marketing ploy.

After Part II there was this huge critical backlash that it was unoriginal and derivative, despite the fact that its final domestic gross was on par with its predecessor, and it was much more successful worldwide. I will still contend that Part II was the better film, pushing its jokes to the logical extension into further darkness and insanity, as well as offering crisper pacing and a sleazier, more brutal setting that better explored the theme of having a catastrophic hangover. Yes, the plot was the same, but there was something special in doing a fantasy drinking tour of every party city in the world. Amsterdam, Tijuana, and Muncie, IN would surely follow, right?

Part III gets half in the bag. While touted as a completely new idea, it flirts with the well-worked premise of the first two entries before avoiding it entirely, but still clinging to the tropes. The thing is, the core idea of a gold heist in order to get their friend Doug (again) back, could have been done in any Hangover movie. So the fact that we get that same kind of searching plot without the fun glimpse at partying depravity feels like we've been cheated. A decapitated giraffe is not really on par with finding babies, tigers, and Tyson tatoos in your hotel room after a night full of bad decisions.

The film also goes into really strange tonal territories. The cold open in the Thai prison where we see Leslie Chow's escape is near perfect. It's got the grunge and grime to pair with a level of ridiculousness and even a reference to The Shawshank Redemption (1994) that would seem to actually balance the proper level of ominous and goofy that makes up this world. From there though, things trend more towards ominous rather than goofy and it never gets back on track to that masterpiece first scene.

I have no problem with comedies that aren't really comedies, as long as they work as actual movies. Funny People (2009) is the go to example. It wasn't a laugh riot, but it had interesting things to say about the throes of stardom, developing principles, and ultimately the strained psychology of hanging out with a lot of funny people who can't really handle the serious parts of their lives. Part III isn't like that. Much of it plays out more as a crime epic or gangster film, but it's not really saying anything unique about that, and it's not funny enough to make up for it like comedies need to be.

A Match made in Hell
As for the cast, this film revolves even more around Zach Galifianakis, but tiptoes around his dementia, ultimately giving him some direction through a pitch-perfect casted lovemate in Melissa McCarthy. Ken Jeong also takes center stage here, but when the main characters are the two craziest, there isn't a lot to go on. Ed Helms has always served as the straight man who the audience could identify with, with Bradley Cooper being the bridge between him and the darker side of Galifianakis. Both these guys tend to take a backseat, though, with much less focus on Helms than Part II. It's not really great writing to make the worst things happen to the characters who aren't fazed by it. That's why Helms always had to suffer - his reactions were the funniest. Instead, Galifianakis' non-reactions are played for laughs, which sort of fall flat.

As with the opening scene, though, the film shines again in its final, mid-credits scene, which gives us what we all came to see - tremendous debauchery and mayhem evidence of a wedding party gone horribly wrong. And Ed Helms with breasts. Will this leave room for a redeeming Part IV? It's unlikely. There were a lot of eggs in this basket, and that basket is pretty well blown at this point. It's tough enough getting these A-Listers together, and there is some sense that this production was a bit rushed. Like I said, I wouldn't at all mind a return to form with The Hangover: Part IV: Amsterdamnation (2016), but that's speaking as the only person in the world who not only tolerated a mimicking of convention, but praised it. Departing from the formula is not at all why Part III is a disappointing film, but there needs to be some reconciliation.

Other stray thoughts:

How often to films like this get the original baby actor to come back?

What happened to this promised level of destruction?

Is this film a victim of overhype or just a bad movie? Why not both.

Start your drinking - what did you think of The Hangover: Part III?

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