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 Hangover (2009)
by Steve Habrat
In June of 2009, America inexplicably fell in love with an overhyped and lopsided comedy about four unlikable idiots that wake up from a wild night in Vegas with absolutely no memory of their boorish behavior. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, one of them is missing in action and has to be found. You should know that I didn’t go into The Hangover with a negative attitude towards the film. No, in fact, I actually went in with a smile on my face. There was nothing but positive buzz surrounding the film and expectations were sky high. How could I not be excited? I walked out of The Hangover a bit perplexed, a little irritated, and infinitely disappointed. What was I missing that every other American was seeing? The ugly truth is that I really don’t see why people find The Hangover to be one of the funniest movies ever made. It looses steam after about twenty minutes in, has only one mildly likable character in the entire film, and the jokes consistently miss their mark or just deflate right before our eyes. For my money, Todd Phillips, who is responsible for this huge misfire, has directed funnier movies. Yes, I actually thought that his teen comedy Road Trip, which starred Tom Green, and his back-to-school romp Old School were much better than this dud.
The Hangover begins by introducing us to mild-mannered Doug Billings (played by Justin Bartha), who is set to marry the beautiful and wealthy Tracy Garner (played by Sasha Barrese). A few days before the wedding, Doug travels to Las Vegas with his best buddies Phil Wenneck (played by Bradley Cooper), Stu Price (played by Ed Helms), and Tracy’s brother Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis) for a raging bachelor party. The next morning, Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up with absolutely no memory of the previous night and a trashed hotel suite. As they guys stumble around their suite, they discover that Stu is missing a tooth, there is a baby in the closet, and there is a tiger in the bathroom. To make matters worse, Doug is nowhere to be found. As the guys try to piece the events of the previous night together and track down their friend, they are taken on a wild journey that has them crossing paths with a ruthless Chinese gangster named Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong), a kind-hearted stripper named Jade (played by Heather Graham), and the one and only Mike Tyson.
For the first twenty minutes, it is smooth sailing for The Hangover. The characters are certainly quirky, especially the anti-social oddball Alan, but they all appear to have some form of positive promise behind them. The jokes also seem to have a bit of sting, even if they don’t necessarily have you doubled over in laughter. And then there is the anticipation of something crazy looming on the horizon, especially in the opening sequence, which finds a dusty and defeated Phil calling up the testy bride-to-be and admitting that the group has really screwed the pooch on this one. You just can’t help but wonder what happened to these guys, as they look like they have been through Hell and back. After the guys wake up in a daze in their suite, the film begins slipping and it is never able to recover. Here and there, Alan and Stu will deliver a good one liner, but as the guys piece everything together, the laughs seem to dwindle. The events become more and more freakish to the point where it just seems designed to shock rather than amuse, and let me tell you, folks, it barely shocks. The guys bash a baby in the face with a car door, a naked man leaps out of a trunk, a used condom is tossed around the inside of a Mercedes, and a pair of deranged cops demonstrate the effects of a taser on dimwitted trio. All through it, you never once find yourself rooting for these guys to have a stroke of luck and find a lead on their pal, which is frustrating because you want to root for them.
The most popular part of The Hangover seems to be its characters, which many viewers have deemed absolutely hilarious and lovable when I see them as dark, troubled, and unlikable. Cooper’s Phil is built up to be the levelheaded one of the group but he really just comes off as a smirking ass that could use a good punch to the face. He is a schoolteacher who steals field trip money from his students and treats his wife and son as if they barely exist. I suppose Phil’s family is there to stand-in as character development but you get the impression that he sees them as more of an annoyance than a gift. Galifianakis is the one who everyone seems to rally around but I find him to be extremely stupid, random, and off-putting. Now, you’re probably saying, “that’s the point, Steve!” Yes, but there has to be some sort of redeeming quality to his character and there is absolutely nothing beyond the blank stupidity. He is just weird for the sake of being weird. Bartha’s Doug is bland and forgettable, which is ironic because the film’s plot revolves around his buddies tracking him down and getting him to the altar as quickly as possible. The only one who stands out is Helms as the whipped nerd Stu, who is constantly beating himself up for his drunken behavior. You can’t help but feel for him as his domineering girlfriend rips him up one side and down the other. As far as the supporting players go, Heather Graham turns in a sweet but too small performance as Jade, a stripper with a heart of gold, and Ken Jeong single-handedly rips the film’s climax to shreds as the shrill and flamboyant gangster Leslie Chow. I really can’t think of a movie character I have disliked more than Leslie Chow.
While the middle section of The Hangover sags, the film really crumbles when it arrives at its underwhelming and winded climax in the middle of the Nevada desert. By this point, Phillips and his cast seem to have given up entirely and just set the entire project on cruise control. It just sort of withers and dies in the excruciating heat while the characters stand around and scratch their heads. To make things worse, the big reveal with Doug’s character is hoping to be met with a giddy sigh of relief and a slap to the forehead but I met it with more of a yawn and a “that’s it?” response. Overall, The Hangover certainly arrives at the party to have a good time, but all the good stuff comes way too early and we are left with a bunch of stale shocks that hope to root the viewer’s jaw on the floor. I won’t argue that it has its wild and crass moments, but I can think of more than a few comedies that would make this hangover feel like it could be cured with a glass of water and an Advil.
The Hangover is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
The Hangover Part II (2011)
by Steve Habrat
I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I really disliked The Hangover. There. I said it. I’ve given the film three go-arounds and I couldn’t even force myself to enjoy it. Criticize me all you want, tell me I lack credibility, I’m striving to be different, whatever. The first Hangover movie sucked. It wasn’t funny, fresh, new, or as charismatic as it was convinced it was. It tried way too hard when half the jokes didn’t land. I found it astonishing that people actually said it was such an original concept. Really? Have you ever heard of a movie called Dude, Where’s My Car? Thought so. None of the characters were likable or relatable in any way and don’t even get me started about Bradley Cooper’s Phil or Zach Galifianakis’ Alan. The fact that misguided audiences stood behind them with such ferocity left me speechless. The original film only offered up a handful of genuine chuckles and yes, I do mean chuckles. Oh, and the joke “Paging Dr. Douche Bag”? Not funny.
Well, to everyone who enjoyed the first round of debauchery can give a humongous bro cry of joy and slap your buddy a high five. The Wolfpack is back and even worse than before. The first film was very average at best. It never seemed to live up to it’s full potential and really drive it’s characters to the brink of madness like it should have. This time around, director Todd Phillips pushes the revulsion to eleven and makes an excruciating film that once again only manages to elicit minor (and I do mean MINOR) chuckles and disgusted groans from it’s desensitized audience. Through the coarse of it’s 100 minute run time, The Hangover Part II relentlessly attempts to convince you that it’s really really funny. This should not be mistaken for it actually being funny because it basically isn’t. It’s just horrific and misguided.
For anyone who actually likes these characters should consider signing themselves up for a psychiatric evaluation. They are not funny, not cool, not people I would ever want to hang out with in real life, not sympathetic, and certain not the heroes people have built them up to be. They are douche bags and nothing more. Take Alan for example. What makes this oafish man-child who has a fascination with The Jonas Brothers the stuff of cinematic legend. He spouts off random humor that apparently is meant to shock and awe the audience when really he’s just an obnoxious dweeb. Or Phil? Phil is a hateful character who on the surface is supposed to be the cool, calm, and collected one. Is it wrong that I wish the worst actions be done on to him? He’s egotistical and coarse. Perhaps that was Phillip’s intention to make us dislike them, but the American public seems to melt over their every word. My hope is that this movie will bring them out of their trance.
The Hangover Part II is literally the same movie in a different location. It shamelessly goes through the motions while grinning at itself. It’s convinced it’s great and it prays that you don’t wake up to its true motive, which is to rob you of another ten bucks. But back to the so-called plot. The douchepack is heading to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Stu, played by the infinitely talented Ed Helms, is basically the only likable character partly because of his reactions to the situations they find themselves in. He’s aghast and seething with anger when he learns of his past actions, which is realistic due to some of the danger that follows them around. But Helms, who is the only talented person attached to this turd, also makes him slightly genuine and sensitive. Once in Thailand, the Wolfpack, along with Stu’s future fifteen-year-old brother-in-law turn a night of one beer on the beach into another drunken romp through the seedy city of Bangkok. This time, they join forces with the shrill Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong, who seems to be funny in literally everything else but this. What follows is a barrage of riots, transgender sex, drug dealing monkeys, car chases, gun shot wounds, severed fingers, American gangsters, and a character missing in action. And let me tell you, folks, it is painful to endure.
The characters that were one note to begin with do not grow or reveal any depth. They are stretched paper-thin and some of them actually snap right in front of our eyes. This is especially true with breaded Alan, who makes one idiotic comment after another. But if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? Phil never even attempts to redeem himself and make us actually like him. Only Stu manages to hold our interest and make us wonder if he will make it back to his wedding in one piece. Mr. Chow is still a character that should have been left on the cutting room floor. A perpetually nude bisexual “gangsta” who makes countless racist comments and cuts Alan down every chance he gets while Alan laughs right along. Maybe Phillips is comparing the relationship between Mr. Chow and Alan to the way audiences howl at the lazy jokes that provide the foundation of these films? One can only wonder.
Even worse, the film lacks a coherent plotline and major conflict. The film really only makes it’s characters aware of a threat in final half hour of the film. The rest is just a horror show of outrageous deprived behavior. The film’s tone is so indecipherable at points that I can’t tell if it was trying to be exploitative or maneuver into the dark comedy realm. It’s dazed with no clear direction just like it’s protagonists. My only hope is that audiences realize that the same joke told two times in a row is not funny especially if joke was unoriginal and unfunny in the first place. A deplorable and careless sequel.
The Hangover Part II is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
by Steve Habrat
As you exit the theater after viewing Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there should be theater employees stationed by the door that snap a picture of you and toss you a t-shirt that reads, “I survived Transformers: Dark of the Moon!” I kid you not that when the theater lights come up, the gleaming credits roll across the screen, and Linkin Park blares down on you from the theater speaker system that you will need to take a minute to compose yourself. Your brain will be reduced the pancake batter, your ears will ring, your bones will ache, and you may suffer from a pounding migraine headache as your try to decipher what it is that you just saw. The truth is that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is infinitely better than the previous installment in the Hasbro toy franchise, but the bottom line is that the film, which hints at an intriguing concept early on, single handedly creates a new subgenre of action film: Explosion porn. In the last hour of this film, I’m absolutely astounded that you could not hear Bay’s maniacal laughter as he reduces Chicago to a pile of smoldering embers, reduces the premise to ash, and leaves you reeking of gasoline and defeat.
Almost everyone I talk to about the Transformers films seem to agree that the first film was a charming action film about a boy and his car. About an eccentric kid grappling with problems most teenage boys face (girls, popularity, money, ennui in suburbia) getting thrust into something that is larger than life. Then came the second film and the awe factor was reduced to racist rubble at the pyromaniac claws of Michael Bay. The first film was clearly overseen by Spielberg, who is the executive producer of these films; because Bay demonstrated some disciplined restraint and didn’t blow up EVERYTHING he pointed his camera at. The second film was an incomprehensible mess that was nothing but one confusing fight sequence after another. Furthermore, halfway through the film, it seemed like the writers realized the storyline was rancid and tried to redirect the entire film. Bad idea.
So how does the third entry in this lucrative franchise fair? Well, it manages to be pretty average in the story department. It has a beefier plot than the previous film but the film is so garish and cramped that it almost bursts on screen. The plot wears thin after the first hour and a half and the film spends the next hour using an epic showdown in downtown Chicago as a dazzling diversion to the fact that the storyline has run out of fuel. The film begins with a nifty prelude that suggests that the space race of the 1960s was in response to a ship that had crash-landed on the dark side of the moon. Turns out that the ship actually belonged to Sentinel Prime, an Autobot that fled the planet of Cybertron during the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. He took with him a precious weapon that would have decided the outcome of the war. Flash forward to present day and the Decepticons are lurking on earth and looking for the weapon to launch a massive campaign against Earth and wipe out the remaining Autobots.
Back at the center of all the action is the bumbling hero Sam Witwicky (Played by motor-mouthed Shia LaBeouf). Once Sam was a lovable hero who just wanted to get the girl. Now, he’s been reduced to a shadow of his once beloved character. He’s set up shop with Carly (Played by Bay’s curvy Babe-of-the-Month Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) in what appears to be a left over set of a Victoria ‘s Secret commercial. The two can’t even come close to emulating the bizarre chemistry that LaBeouf had with Megan Fox in the first two installments. They seem like the most improbable couple on the face of the earth. The rest of the cast is back too and they are all as colorful as ever. We have the tough-as-nails army officers Epps (Played by Tyrese Gibson), and Lennox (Played by Josh Duhamel) back on the front lines of the alien/robot battle. Also back is Sam’s TMI-spouting parents and the eccentric former Sector 7 agent Simmons (Played with berserk delight by John Turturro). Newcomers include John Malkovich as Sam’s unhinged new boss, Ken Jeong as Sam’s jittery coworker, Frances McDormand as an icy government agent, and Patrick Dempsey as a charismatic boss.
It truly is enigmatic how Bay convinced some of the talent to actually agree to be in this beast of a movie. They must have all been desperate for a payday because I can’t imagine stars like Malkovich and McDormand actually biting at this tomfoolery. They do the best job they can with the material they are given. Let’s not forget that some of the dialogue has never been some of the sharpest banter ever projected onto the silver screen but it is given some life by these accomplished actors. Yet somehow all these characters are the reason that these films astonishingly stay afloat. Granted the second film may be one of the vilest movies of recent memory, but you have to admit that it had spunk. The characters are effervescent and so are their alien allies even if tired clichés pour from their CGI mouths.
While many are swift to accuse Bay of producing empty cinematic experiences, they are correct to an extent. Bay does action well and he can frame a scene better than most directors out there, but the problem with Bay is that he sabotages his own film’s potential. This film has plenty of said potential and the first twenty minutes of it are expertly constructed. He weaves history and fiction together just as effortlessly as they did in X-Men: First Class. But then Bay can’t resist himself and pulls the pin out of the grenade. He does this with a single shot that throws off the momentum that the film has been gathering—a shot of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s ass as it sways up a set of stairs. It sucks the life right out of the film and for the next hour, the film scrambles to gather back that momentum. It doesn’t help that the premise here is stretched to the breaking point, snaps, and then continues on for another hour. I believe that the first film worked so well because we knew so little about these alien visitors. Now, the films have been steeped in geek lore and suffer from being completely overblown. Everything is given a longwinded explanation that drags the events on another ten minutes. This entry keeps it a bit simpler but I still firmly believe the franchise should have been left at one. Shame on Hollywood’s gluttony.
Overall, Bay has become a target for another crime against his audience—making them feel no emotion whatsoever. His films are more concerned with the action sequences than any redeeming quality like emotion. Yes, a film should send you away with a feeling. That can include walking away sad, overjoyed, depressed, moved, or, yes, thrilled to your core. While the last entry sent you away confused and simply infuriated that it exists, Transformers: Dark of the Moon sends you away overwhelmed and disoriented. You will feel like you just stepped off of a rollercoaster. I guarantee that your stomach will be doing somersaults for hours after in your gut. We can spend all day arguing over the mediocrity of his latest film, or we can just agree on the obvious: At least Bay sent you away FEELING something this time around. Grade: C+
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is available on Blu-ray and DVD Friday.