The Hangover Part III (2013)
by Steve Habrat
After taking in the revolting antics of 2011s The Hangover Part II, the question of whether the world truly needed the second Hangover film hung thickly in the summer air. Was the follow-up to the inexplicable 2009 megahit really necessary? Apparently, Warner Bros. and director Todd Phillips thought the world needed a double dose of the Wolfpack. I don’t think there is any doubt that the world DEFINITELY didn’t need a third Hangover movie, but here we are with what is being called the final installment in the Hangover trilogy. Let’s hope so. Let me be clear when I say this—America, this is what you asked for. The Hangover Part III is about the laziest movie I’ve seen all year. It can be commended for breaking the formula of the first two movies and trying something new, but was everyone sleepwalking through the making of this thing? Devoid of any solid laughs and structured with a plot that seems like it was conceived by someone in a drunken stupor, The Hangover Part III is about as flat, arid, and jaded as cash grab sequels come. Even the target audience will have a hard time finding the humor in all of this, and more importantly, they’ll find it nearly impossible to root for the horribly detached heroes Phil, Stu, and Alan. You’ve been warned, folks.
The Hangover Part III focuses much of its attention on bearded oddball Alan Garner (played by Zach Galifianakis), whose bizarre behavior is slowly spiraling more and more out of control He has quit taking his medication and in a seriously foolish move, he purchases a giraffe that is killed while he tows it down the highway. Appalled by his son’s anti-social behavior, Alan’s father, Sid (played by Jeffrey Tambor), drops dead of a heart attack. It doesn’t take long for the grieving family to round up Alan’s best buddies and stage an intervention for the distraught man-child. Among the friends that step in are schoolteacher Phil Wenneck (played by Bradley Cooper), dentist Stu Price (played by Ed Helms), and Alan’s brother-in-law Doug (played by Justin Bartha). The group convinces Alan to go to rehab, but he is only willing to go if the Wolfpack will go with him. While on their way, the guys are rammed off the road and confronted by the pudgy gangster Marshall (played by John Goodman), who demands to know the whereabouts of flamboyant Chinese gangster Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong). It turns out that Chow, who has recently broken out of a Bangkok prison, has stolen $21 million dollars in gold bars and that Alan is the only one who has had communication with him since the escape. Marshall takes Doug as collateral and threatens that if the Wolfpack doesn’t track Chow down in three days, he will kill Doug.
The biggest crime of The Hangover Part II was that it recycled the plot of the first film, switched locations, and then padded it with a thick layer of lurid shocks. It was the ultimate endurance test and I’d say Phillips was the true victor. With The Hangover Part III, Phillips wisely moves away from the gross out approach that he used in Part II. You’d think that a toned down feel and a fresh plot that was minus a night of heavy drinking would refresh the franchise and energize the main players, but it’s actually the complete opposite. There is barely a laugh to be found throughout the hour and forty minute runtime, just ask the packed showing that I attended. There was an excited buzz in the air before the opening credits rolled and as the film drug on, you could feel that excitement slowly fading as joke after joke failed to get much of a reaction. To make things worse, Phillips then placed the two most popular characters, Alan and Chow, at the forefront of the entire project. You probably already know I’m not a big fan of either character and I think that a little bit of each one goes a very long way. You can just sense that the studio and the filmmakers are crossing their fingers that Galifianakis and Jeong will carry the film across the finish line. It should be said that they don’t. They stumble and fall the minute they get moving.
The sense of laziness carries over into the performances from Helms and Cooper, both who act like they’d like to just step away from the project altogether. Cooper, who is hot off an Oscar nomination for his surprising performance in Silver Linings Playbook, seems to be preoccupied with his new success and bored with the story. The script doesn’t even bother to elaborate or deepen his character in any way, shape, or form. He’s just going through the motions for a paycheck and its painfully obvious. As far as Helms goes, he was the one doing most of the work in the first two films, but here he seems edged out by Phillips and Galifinakis. He was usually the one who had the best one-liners but he’s nearly invisible this time around. Galifianakis is off his game (and his rocker) the second we catch up with him as he speeds down the freeway with a CGI giraffe being tugged behind him. Every single joke he cracked made me want to bury my face in my hands and shake my head (mind you, that is not a compliment). As far as Jeong’s Chow goes, there is just entirely too much of him. Even the die-hards will have a hard time defending his drastically increased screen time. Goodman puts forth quite a bit of effort as Marshal and he certainly owns the screen when he is squeezed into it, but there is little in the way of substance there. Fans of the first film will rejoice when they catch a glimpse of Mike Epps as “Black” Doug, Heather Graham as Jade, and, yes, even Baby Carlos, but the thrill will instantly fade when you realize they are given absolutely nothing to do besides reminding the audience that they still exist.
While I will agree that The Hangover Part III is a step up from the pitiful second installment, it is still the furthest thing from a great film. There are certainly a few cruel jokes (the worst being the decapitation of the giraffe) but most of them are unbelievably tame, limp, or simply non-existent. There are times when the film seems to be attempting to jump from the comedy mold entirely and into something resembling an action movie/crime caper, but it is far from smooth about this transition and it is just plain awkward. The project doesn’t even perk up when the Wolfpack finally arrives back in their Las Vegas, their blinking and flashing Hell on earth. By that point, it seems like cast and crew have upped and abandoned this turd altogether. Overall, the reshaped plot is a smart move, but the lack of even one memorable joke and the drastic shift in tone seem to have crushed the Wolfpack’s party spirit. They are ready to move on to bigger and better projects, ones that are more deserving of their comedic talents. And you, America, are ready to laugh at something far funnier than these obnoxious and poorly drawn characters. This is the worst film of 2013 so far.
The Campaign (2012)
by Steve Habrat
Finally, a summer comedy worth laughing hard about! Funnyguys Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis team up for a short but (really) sweet political satire in The Campaign, cleverly released just three short months before the presidential election, right in the thick of battle for the White House. Pitting these two buffoons against each other is comedic gold and under the direction of Jay Roach, the film manages to have a soft side that really made me fall for it despite the consistent string of jaw dropping obscenities and playground tomfoolery. A step in the right direction for both of these titans of comedy, The Campaign refuses to play dumb like the two candidates duking it out at the heart of the film. As Roach guides things along, The Campaign evolves into a witty prod of the absurdities of a political race, at times feeling a little too real despite the all the childish behavior. The Campaign also comes as a major relief because it was released just in the nick of time to make up for the sorry state of funnies in 2012. Any film that has a tiny baby taking one in the kisser by Mr. Farrell runs off with my vote.
After leaving a sexually explicit message on an innocent family’s answering machine, long-term democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Played by Will Farrell) finds himself in hot water with the public. Since his careless slip has occurred right before the upcoming election, two wealthy and corrupt CEOs (Played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see a way to finally push clueless Cam out of office and use the election as part of a plan to profit from shady deals that they have made with the Chinese. They set their sights on the equally clueless Marty Huggins (Played by Zach Galifianakis), the sensitive tourism director for their small town. Backed by a no-nonsense campaign manager named Tim Wattley (Played by Dylan McDermott), the conservative Marty has to get aggressive against the ruthless Brady fast in order to win over the public’s vote. Things start out civil but take a turn for the disastrous when the two candidates cross paths, locking them in a never ending game of tug of war that finds them resorting to childish tricks and putdowns to win the election. May the best comedian win!
While it is business as usual for both Farrell and Galifianakis, it is business that is right at home in The Campaign. Here, Farrell is great as an idiotic man-child who doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his behavior and Galifiankis is on point with his lisping naivety that just never clicked for me in The Hangover. You’ll feel for poor Marty when he first meets with cold-hearted Cam at a brunch that finds Cam going for the throat of his opponent. The jabs are hysterical, one of the best coming from Cam who accuses Marty of being a communist because he owns (and adores) two pugs. When Marty realizes that the gloves need to come off and the brass knuckles need to be put on, the sweet natured Marty dishes out his fair share of insults. While we expect this abrasive behavior from Cam, it begins to be a bit painful to see Marty resorting to the same style of politics. Marty becomes almost monstrous in his attacks at Cam, the lowest being his accusations that Cam is a lousy father (you have to see it to believe it). Roach and his screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, avoid repetition by revealing the emotional bruises that are left by each insult hurled, something I was pleasantly surprised with. It really allows The Campaign to have it both ways, raunchy gonzo comedy for those looking for an escapist laugh and substantial satire for those who like their chuckles with a side of intellect.
While the big name leads keep things spunky for the eighty-five minute runtime, the supporting comics all have their moments too. It was nice to see Lithgow and Aykroyd really playing it up as two slimy suits that warn that money and big business control the election. It is said with a wink in all the theatrical madness but it coldly cuts through you to the point where you half suspect your vote doesn’t make a bit of difference in the real world. Brian Cox as Marty’s disappointed father who enjoys cocaine and multiple afternoon cocktails was also a welcome presence even if he does spend much of the film exasperated with Marty. McDermott almost steals the show with his domineering Tim, the campaign manager from Hell. When he steps on the scene and begins tinkering with Marty’s life, things really get fun. He overshadows the rather forgettable Jason Sudeikis as Mitch, Cam’s close friend and campaign manager. I’ve never been particularly smitten with his brand of comedy and he didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary to really win me over here. Katherine LaNasa has strong presence as Cam’s fiendish wife Rose, who gladly accepts big checks to stick by her unfaithful man. Rounding out the supporters is Sarah Baker as Marty’s bashful wife Mitzi, a gal who weakens in the knees for both Drew Carrey and Cam. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer also stops by in a small cameo that ends up being one of the funniest sequences in the entire film. I’d love to see him get his own project one day but I have a gut feeling that too much of him could be a bad thing.
After the disappointing Dictator, the revolting That’s My Boy, lumpy Ted, and lackluster Watch, The Campaign is an absolutely glowing adult comedy despite the handful of flaws that can be found throughout. There are a few points where Farrell flies wildly off the rails, taking things further than he needed to and killing the moment. It happens only a few times and you quickly forget about it. Farrell’s problem is that he gets on a role and begins to run the joke into the ground but I guess it comes with adlibbing. There is more emphasis put on him in the middle section of the film while Galifianakis twiddles his thumbs in the corner and patiently waits for his turn. I’d say that Galifianakis gets the upper hand through a good majority of The Campaign but Farrell is always a very close second, eager to not be completely outdone. It just boils down to range and there is no question that Galifianakis has Farrell there. I also found the side plot involving those slippery CEOs to be thinly written and completely overlooked during the middle of the film. I can confidently say that you have not seen all the funniest moments in the laugh-out-loud trailer that has been running all summer long and there will be more than a few jokes that linger once the film has left the theater. Overall, The Campaign has more than a few surprises up its sleeve and the fact that it actually sends you away thinking is a major positive. You won’t simply be swapping your favorite one-liners with your buddies and wiping away tears of laughter from Farrell’s baby punch heard round the world.