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.
by Steve Habrat
For those of you out there who were convinced that Judd Apatow was nothing but a sexist who made movies simply for immature males and about male tribulations have an argument no longer. Mr. Apatow and director Paul Feig have officially made a movie for females that tackle arduous female relationships with each other and themselves. To all the men out there who are writing Bridesmaids off as a “chick flick” need to suck it up and take the trip to pick up the Blu-ray because I guarantee you are going to laugh your ass off. Bridesmaids leaves the recent string of “bromance” films in its comedic dust and can proudly call itself one of the funniest movies since The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Much of its success lies on the slim shoulders of the comedienne in the center of all the pandemonium and that little lady is SNL alum Kristen Wiig. Wiig co-wrote the script with her pal Annie Mumolo and it is drenched in wicked shrewdness along with many other bodily fluids. Wiig also happens to prove to the suits out there that she can indeed carry a film and does not have to settle for the occasional cameo or background character. Her performance here is strikingly similar to what we saw from Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
If one were to quickly glance at the title of this film and have no clue what the film is about, many would assume that it’s some new Kate Hudson bomb that follows her shallow quest to pull Matthew McConaughey for the fifth time. A disposable romantic comedy that presumes Hudson breaking a heel and falling down is comedic brilliance. The type of film that will last for about a month at the theater and then quickly make it’s way to DVD. It’s refreshing to see Wiig, who up until this film had not snagged herself a starring vehicle, a woman with pitch-perfect comedic timing step up to the plate to play Annie, a woman who has seemingly hit rock bottom. She is a victim of the recession as her bakery she started has been reduced to a boarded up graffiti wall. We also learn that her boyfriend picked up and ditched her after her bakery closed down. She spends her nights with a wealthy playboy (Played by a never better John Hamm) and spends her days paling around with her best friend Lillian (Played by another SNL alum and real life BFF Maya Rudolph). Annie complains to Lillian about her problems and figures she will always have a shoulder to lean on with her. That is until Lillian drops the bomb on Annie and proclaims that she is getting married. At the engagement party, Annie is introduced to the wildly colorful bridal party. She meets innocent Becca (Played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper), bored-housewife-with-a dark-side Rita (Played by Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey), the uber-confidant Megan (Played by scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy), and the wealthy and malicious Helen (played by Insidious star Rose Byrne). Annie finds herself pitted against Helen in the quest for maid of honor and hilariously self-destructs from the battle.
Wiig manages to play Annie not as a desperate-for-love caricature but as a wounded and vulnerable heroine. We root for her to, yes, find love but also to hold on to her best friend even as Annie and Lillian grow further and further apart. The universe has come crashing down on this poor soul and she is more desperate than ever to find a friend she can actually trust and does not come equipped with ulterior motives. Wiig also does the seemingly impossible task of making a horrific breakdown uproariously hilarious. There are scenes in this movie that will leave you howling with laughter and scenes that will have you wishing Annie was a real flesh-and-blood human you could give a big sympathetic hug and reassure her that everything will be okay.
It is an absolute thrill to watch Wiig and Mumolo lob a rowdily unpredictable comedic sequence that begins subtle and erupts into full on chaos at the audience. A bridal gown fitting that ends with food poisoning will bring you to your knees with laughter and shrieking “Oh, my God!” and a prescription drugs and scotch fueled meltdown on a plane to Vegas tops anything that was found in the incredibly overrated Hangover in terms of shock comedy. Wiig’s physical comedy comes to a head as she suffers a nervous breakdown during a shower in Helen’s mansion and battles Helen’s excessive wealth and her ability to purchase friends by throwing down with a giant cookie. Wait until you see it. It should join the ranks as one of the funniest scenes in the history of comedy.
When you’re not recovering from the countless belly laughs (trust me, there are PLENTY!), there is a scene of hushed, sincere emotion that will leave you speechless. Ones that left the entire packed theater silent in the particular showing I attended way back in May. You could actually feel the heartbreak hovering in the room and it became almost painful to sit and watch. One scene finds Annie confronted by the chunky Megan that is the definition of powerful and uplifting. Or a scene that shows Annie telling her mother that things have gone from bad to worse that will tug your heartstrings until they snap. It will warm your heart when Annie begins to find love with a sensitive Irish cop Rhodes, played by the charismatic Chris O’Dowd. The film is a testament to what great script writing and great direction can do for a film.
The ladies of Bridesmaids manage to prove that they can party just as hard as the boys and leave the Wolfpack looking like a bunch of cubs. They are real, honest, and hugely likeable even when they are reduced to hot messes. The performances here are what make the film seem effortless and strangely protracted. Like all Apatow films, it drags on about twenty minutes too long, but you’ll be willing to overlook it mostly because it blindsides you with overwhelming emotion. From the male perspective, it was nice to sit on the sidelines this time around and let the film just wash over me. It’s going to dispatch women from the theater to debate about the mechanics of their relationships just as Apatow’s “bromance” films struck chords with men. Already a strong contender for the best comedy of the year, Bridesmaids needs to party it’s way to the top of your must-see list. Grade: B+
Bridesmaids is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Here is the ugly truth about the romantic comedy genre: The well has run dry! In the past years, it has had nothing new to offer on the topic of love, romance, and the comedy has sure been nonexistent. The genre has been forced to evolve in the most bizarre ways imaginable. It has stopped limiting itself to heterosexual relationships and branched out into “bromance” films, which include movies like the innocently hilarious I Love You, Man, the coming-of-age Superbad and the Adam Sandler monstrosity I Know Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Sadly, the bromance films were just acting as the placebo tablet to the sickly genre that was riddled with cancer in the form of Kate Hudson. They were a nice distraction from the obvious but they refused to break new ground. They just remained stationary and unprogressive. We laughed it up but by the time we got The Hangover Part II, I think most people had had more than enough of the man and man action.
Thankfully, in saunters the confident and unapologetic Crazy, Stupid, Love and it is just in the nick of time. Goldie Locks Kate attempted once this summer and critics hissed in disgust but Steve Carell and his merry gang of gifted, pretty faces saved the day. The truly amazing aspect is that Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the best films of the year so far. The film is teeming with life and it manages to be reassuring for the genre and the audience itself. The film covers all the stops when it comes to love and infatuation all the while fluffing off its PG-13 rating with a devil-may-care charm. Carell plays Cal, a slouchy everyman who appears to be just going through the motions of his marriage. He’s plain and downright insipid. He can’t talk to his wife Emily (Played by Julianne Moore) about anything over dinner except the fact that he ate too much bread and now he’s full. He now finds himself faced with the horrorific decision of what to order. Suddenly, Emily announces she wants a divorce from her husband of twenty-five years. She proceeds to tell him she has slept with someone else and she needs out. Cal is devastated and becomes a self-pitying sad sack.
While sulking in a posh bar, Cal meets Jacob (Played by the always welcome Ryan Gosling), a suave smooth talker who has no problem luring the ladies to bed. He approaches Cal and tells him he can make him over from the bumbling dud into a self-assured stud. He does and the transformation is downright side splitting. But Jacob soon decides to leave the game in pursuit of a sexy, over-achieving law student named Hannah (Played by Emma Stone, who appears to be everywhere this summer!).
Crazy, Stupid, Love is loaded with side stories and appealing background characters that make the film a joy to behold from second to second. The jokes are fast and the subject matter bold but the film presents it in such a sweet manner that you can’t be disgusted by it even if you tried. Even when the film finds itself at the most envelope pushing moments, know that the film is going to deliver one of the most satisfying payoffs imaginable. I won’t spoil too much of the raucous antics that follow, but it all adds up to a ten minute sequence that will have you howling with laughter. It all plays into the theme of the movie—love is crazy and we all act stupid in the face of it. When the bombshell Marisa Tomei shows up as horn ball teacher that Cal woos to bed, Cal lights up like a kid at Christmas when she asks what he wants to do with her in the throws of passion. Trust me, you will die laughing from his response. I guess when love and lust strike, we are all reduced to behaving like children.
The film boasts a shot-on-the-fly vérité approach at points and this adds to the down-to-earth mentality of the film. It has moments of raw emotion, especially in a scene where the separated Cal and Emily meet up at a parent/teacher conference. They have a heart-to-heart that will have many audience members’ eyes welling up with crocodile tears. The film hits exceptionally hard when it chooses but I guess that’s what love does—it hits us hard when we least expect it. Furthermore, love itself can be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, just like the film. One second it will have us beaming and the next, we will be at its mercy. It gets us to lower our defenses and then it strikes. That, my dear friends, is what solid scriptwriting and filmmaking is all about.
I can only hope and pray with everything in me that this film is remembered come awards season. I hope that the Academy will be willing to sift through all the rubble from those superheroes and rediscover this gem. It’s taboo and reassuring all at the same time. You will fall head over heels for Carell and Gosling, both who play their characters as if they will never have another chance to be in front of the camera again. Moore plays the moist eyed Emily with her heart on her sleeve. She’s despicable in one moment and the grabbing our empathy the next. Stone brings her usual girl-next-door charm to Hannah. She is an actress to keep a close eye on and Crazy, Stupid, Love allows her to really convey some depth.
From the performances to the directing to the finely weaved story, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a finely polished piece of filmmaking. One that will be calling you back to take some comfort in it again even if you are not particularly bumming from lost love at the moment. I think it calls us back because these characters seem so real that we sincerely enjoy being in their company. It also features something literally everyone can relate to in some manner. In a summer filled with larger than life pictures released every Friday, this small, intimate portrait of emotion is the one that will leave the biggest impression on the viewer. Rejoice that the romantic comedy is still holding on to dear life. There’s still some life in that old dog yet! I can’t recommend this film enough. Grade: A