Friday, May 24, 2013

‘The Hangover Part III’ (2013) directed by Todd Phillips


Chaos reigns. The detritus of BRADLEY COOPER's life is scattered everywhere.  Broken glass fills the hall, the broken light fittings spark.  Embedded in the wall is a gigantic, gently smoking golden cross.  ED HELMS is lying on his back on the parquet flooring.  His body is spattered in a neon blue liquid and we see two enormous barbed insectile mandibles have been grafted to his jaw.  Rapper CHRIS BROWN is splayed naked on the sofa, his fists covered in blood and glittering sequins.  ZACH GALIFIANAKIS is spasmodically jerking on the floor. We see that he’s clutching a wheezing, suffocating, yet still gently chittering bottlenose dolphin tightly in his arms.  THE BORING ONE, DOUG OR SOMETHING I DUNNO is nowhere to be seen.  Finally we see BRADLEY COOPER face down on an enormous four poster bed covered in sticky black viscera of indeterminate origin.  An Oscar statuette reading “Best Actor 2013 Academy Awards: Daniel Day Lewis” protrudes from his anus, the head and shoulders enveloped within him.  Slowly, red-eyed and blinking, he comes to.

(bewildered and confused)
What-what happened?  What.. did we do last night?  Ed? Z-Zach?!

BRADLEY COOPER looks around at the ruins of his house in disbelief, his mouth open.  He gingerly and with a tiny squeak of discomfort pulls the Oscar statuette out, glances at it, then hurls it away in disgust.  He finds a sheaf of paper on the bed.  In close up we see that the paper reads “CONTRACT FOR BRADLEY COOPER’S PARTICIPATION IN THIRD HANGOVER FEATURE FILM (AS YET UNTITLED).”  The paper is stained and torn, but his wobbly signature is legible.  His eyes widen.

No... Oh God no.  Not this.  Please... I’m.. I’m a serious actor now...



I figure it went down something like that.  The Hangover Part III is cinema as commercial necessity rather than as art.  The previous two Hangover films have cumulatively grossed over $1 billion dollars worldwide, which makes this, the third in the series feel like an inevitability.  What we have here is a Frankenstein of a movie, a director and actors who’d clearly like to be elsewhere, putting together a style-free comedy-by-numbers with a cobbled together plot that frantically stitches an ersatz narrative from the minor dangling plot ends of the previous films.

What’s bizarre is the reverential tone this film takes to the franchise.  Now, The Hangover is a damn good film.  Perhaps not a classic for all times, but certainly one of the funniest mainstream comedy films of 2009.  Here it’s treated like a holy text, each slice of recycled iconography that crops up is gilded with significance and loaded with emotional weight.  The first film was very funny in the sick depths it plumbed, but importantly it also had a genuine emotional core and ultimately a good nature.  The Bangkok set sequel did away with this good nature, being a rather unpleasant and cruel retread.  So where does the third one go?  The first sequel was rightly criticised for being a point for point recreation of the first, yet in a film with Hangover in the title, well, people expect a certain narrative structure.

The plot, such as it is, finds Ed (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and extraneous, personality-free Doug (Justin Bartha) on the run from gold hungry gangster Marshall (John Goodman).  Setting all this in motion are the machinations of insane gay drug-addled supercriminal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong).  This setup is largely an excuse for a series of disconnected scenes that approach the level of a sketch comedy show.  After two films we know these guys pretty well, so there’s a bit of mileage to be had in seeing how they behave in, say, a cat burglar style infiltration of a mansion, or an action-packed prison break or an Oceans 11 caper.

During these sequences you sense that Todd Phillips is trying to prove himself as a capable action director, and to be fair he does a pretty damn good job of things.  The problem is that this is a comedy, and action sequences, by and large, aren’t particularly funny.  The memorable moments of these films aren’t the complex, expensive set pieces with motorway pileups, parachute jumps and car chases, they’re the petty arguments and snide remarks between Ed, Stu and Alan - or to be more precise and honest - mostly from Alan.

With Bradley Cooper by and large sleepwalking through the film and Ed Helms’ character shorn of character development it’s left to Zach Galifianakis to shoulder the burden of making this funny.  In a minor miracle he actually succeeds.  Galifianakis’s Alan remains as fascinating a hairy ball of egotism as he ever was.  There must be some kind of crazy voodoo to make this spiteful manchild likeable, but not only are we totally onside with him in every situation, he comprises the emotional heart of the movie.  Much of this is his obvious vulnerability, conveyed through his expressive puppydog eyes.  There’s a flirty scene between Alan and a pawn shop owner, Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), that judging from the reactions of Ed and Stu is supposed to be disgusting, but is actually genuinely sweet, touching and honest-to-god, genuinely romantic.

The flipside of the coin is Ken Cheong’s Leslie Chow, who has been subjected to an absolutely brutal Flanderisation over the course of just three films.  Flanderisation (depicted perfectly here), named after The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders, describes how a character with eccentricities and quirks will evolve to become entirely composed of those quirks, exaggerated to monstrous proportions.  So, from his beginnings as an eccentric Las Vegas gangster, Chow is now an internationally renowned, apparently unkillable supercriminal.  His insanity has progressed from ‘mere’ sociopathy to the level of randomly eating dog food from a bowl for kicks.  The character is unabashedly racist and homophobic, but to such surreal heights that it almost becomes tolerable.  I say ‘almost’, because after some embarrassingly worthy L/R accent replacement gags, a karaoke scene that sinks like a stone and the ‘shock’ of him being aggressively gay (which stopped being funny about 2⅔ films ago) it feels like they're trying a bit too hard.

But even through the near absence of plot, and the increasingly cartoonish antics of Chow the film is still (just about) basically funny.   The emotional pull is back, not quite to the extent of the first film, but it makes everything a lot more tolerable.  There’s even a faint stab at a theme.  Our characters are caught in the crossfire between the coldly businesslike, professional Marshall and the wildly eccentric, terrifying anarchism of Chow.  So, the film  says if you have to make a choice, go with dangerous and exciting and you’ll probably come out of it a happier person, eventually.  The ending of the film implies that this is the last Hangover film; a blessed relief as even Zach Galifianakis would be in danger of running out of steam in a fourth sequel.  Still - I wouldn’t put it past them to do a Leslie Chow spinoff - and if they do may God have mercy on our souls.


‘The Hangover Part III’ is on general release now.

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