In their defence, at least they sort-of listened. The major criticism of the generally pretty terrible The Hangover Part II was that it was effectively a retread of the first film, just in a different location. The pieces of the puzzle were still pretty much the same, familiarity was at the core of what jokes it could muster, and the box office tills rang loudly.
For this third, and we’re told final, outing writers Craig Mazin and Todd Phillips have come up with something else for The Wolfpack – Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and a bit of Justin Bartha – and they have a new mission as a result. No longer does the film start with a messed up scenario that we spend the film waiting to be deciphered. Instead, it plays things a lot straighter. It involves Ken Jeong’s Chow, a greater focus on Galifianakis’ Alan, a dab of casual racism, and a road trip.
Fans of director Todd Phillips’ earlier work – and we count ourselves very much amongst them – will recall that he got his career off to a fine start with a solid movie called Road Trip (which is still worth digging out). He clearly knows how to work a good comedy around one. But not here. In this case, in lieu of a plot as such, it feels like instead you get a collection of beer mats with drunken writing on the back, strung together with some flimsy thread that the cat had played with first.
Now granted, a strong narrative isn’t necessarily a precursor to a good comedy, as Ryan’s discussion on Anchorman touches on here. But the problem here is that there are no crumbs up to the jokes, and no impact from them. Someone says a line out of nowhere, it falls flat. There might be a bit of physical comedy out of nowhere as well, but it too fails to deliver. There’s no working the gags, no laying of seeds for a comedy payoff later. And sadly, it comes across as a lot of very talented (and they really are) people pissing about in front of a camera.
Todd Phillips has defended the last film against accusations of laziness, and certainly the different angle to this story feels like a response to that. But this one nonetheless still feels lazy again. Not in a production sense – the film looks good, and we’re sure that people worked their backsides off to make it. Yet it’s where it matters, in the ideas, writing, creativity and comedy, that it feels that we’ve been shortchanged. Phillips is the man who brought us Old School and Starsky And Hutch. He can do comedy, and do it really well. But not, sadly, here.
It doesn’t help that the movie hangs heavily on the shoulders of Zach Galifianakis this time. He’s a talented comedy actor, but his character here, Alan, just isn’t pleasant. You can get away with a relatively dislikeable character when he’s around the sides of the movie, or part of the ensemble. But he’s effectively the lead character in this film, and just as with Identity Thief earlier this year, you’re asked to root for someone who’s really, really hard to like. When the film then asks you to feel some degree of sympathy for him, it falls flat. And not for the first time.
What’s also surprising is how underused Bradley Cooper is this time around. Even without funny lines to say, he’s got the charisma and screen presence to sell underwhelming material. But, no matter what the billing above the poster suggests, this one isn’t his film, and maybe it should have been. John Goodman is injected in from time to time, which temporarily livens things up. But again, he’s deployed sparingly.
There are a few positives, but then The Hangover Part III blows its most creative moments within minutes of the film starting. It kicks off with a decent The Shawshank Redemption skit, then there’s that gag from the trailer involving a giraffe, and you get all the Jeffrey Tambor that you’re given in the film. In fact, let that serve as a warning: any comedy film that recruits Jeffrey Tambor and then, for whatever reason, barely uses him, should be setting the alarm bells ringing.
By the end of The Hangover Part III, those alarm bells aren’t so much clanging, as the subject of several ASBOs in their own right. Because in spite of the effort made to do something new, the problems lie deep.
The Hangover Part III doesn’t aim particularly high, yet it still surprises by just how much it manages to miss. It’s not that we’re prudish against R-rated comedies, either (get us in a pub and we’ll wax lyrical about Role Models, 21 Jump Street, Old School, Anchorman and many more). It’s that we’re fed up with unpleasant, unfunny comedies, that substitute a streak of nastiness and the comfy confines of a now-familiar franchise for any real degree of creative spark or skilful humour. And that you finally get a decent funny scene in The Hangover Part III, but not until midway through the end credits, tells you pretty much what you need to know.
If you got enough out of The Hangover Part II, then chances are you’ll get your money’s worth again here. But not for the first time, this is a big Hollywood comedy sequel that’s full of the problems we still take the piss out of the Police Academy films for. The difference is, this one’s going to be a massive hit. And that’ll just encourage them more.
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