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The Hangover III: Shut Up and Give Us Your Money

By (May 25, 2013) No Comment

hangover-3-posterThe other day, after surviving a screening of Hangover III and faced with writing about a “comedy” so completely humorless that its relentless ineptitude felt like it had to be intentional, I had a moment of clarity about the film, the franchise, and its smug, hack auteur Todd Phillips (Old School, Hangover I and II, Due Date).

The problem is that the phrase that leapt to my mind and firmly lodged itself there is a very crude one. It’s not for polite company or enlightened discussion. If you’re offended not amused by gutter vulgarity, please don’t read any further. I won’t take it personally.

You can leave right now – all you need to know is that The Hangover III is an awful, unfunny film that manages to be even worse than The Hangover II, and that you don’t need to ever see it. Not even if it’s free on cable next year while you’re bedridden with the shingles. Or your cousin brings the DVD over on Thanksgiving and it’s watch it or a Taylor Swift holiday special.

Okay, we cool? Everyone who doesn’t want to be here has left the building?

As I sulked out of the screening earlier this week, here was my great insight into The Hangover III:

I haven’t seen a sequel hate f*ck its fans this hard since The Human Centipede II.

To clarify for you better-adjusted beings who haven’t seen Human Centipede II, I’m not alluding directly to the infamous anatomical shenanigans of the Human Centipede movies. (Though watching Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifinakis, and Ed Helms trudge sullenly through Hangover III, I’m guessing they can relate to being sewn together ass-to-mouth and forced to digest excrement.)

Rather, Human Centipede’s writer-director Tom Six clearly loathed the hard-core twisted fans of his first surgical horror film and how it had become a cheap pop-culture joke that even soccer moms could titter over. That drove Six to make a sequel so repulsive, so much further over the top, and so intentionally “bad” that watching it is a deeply unpleasant chore. Which was exactly what the avant-garde provocateur wanted it to be: an ironic art-experiment punishment for anyone stupid enough to “like” his first film and still willing to him pay for more.

hangover-3-zach-bradley-edAnd that’s how I think Todd Phillips feels about the backward-cap-wearing D-bags who show up for his (still-lucrative) Hangover movies. “You’re dumb enough to keep paying to see these movies? Fine, here, take this. Take 85 minutes of several talented comic actors going through the motions as some sort of misguided favor for the franchise that made them all wealthy stars. Take another hour and a half of tired, half-baked, sex, drugs, and animal cruelty jokes. Here’s Zach Galifianakis with his shirt off—you always laugh at that, right? Here, Ken Jeong’s going to yell and swear a lot–that’s always funny.”

Nobody in front or behind the camera seems to want to be making Hangover III, the franchise’s supposed “finale.” If Phillips and the studio could, they wouldn’t keep filming Hangover movies—they’d just put PayPal link online with the headline “Send us $12 and We’ll Call it Even.” Maybe include below it a photo of Phillip’s genitalia. And a monkey in a clown suit holding a knife.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, you snooty, high-brow critics have no sense of humor and don’t appreciate crude, mean-spirited comedy. You want everything to be Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker exchanging dryly cutting quips over sherry. You don’t get why it’s funny to see a giraffe decapitated by an overpass or to watch a diminutive, half-naked Asian crime boss do… anything.” Trust me, I love low-brow and cruel humor, even intentionally unfunny experiments in “anti-humor” like Jody Hill’s deadpan Observe and Report or Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. And against all better judgment, I still laugh at really dumb things I shouldn’t, like Adam Sandler comedies and the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges remake.

hangover-3-ken-jeongThe problem with The Hangover III isn’t that I don’t get the jokes, it’s that there are literally no jokes in it. The script by Phillips and Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3 and 4, Hangover II, Identity Thief) follows an attempt by Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) to take man-boy Allen (Galifianakis) to rehab. (He’s off his meds.) Their trip is hijacked by a crime boss (John Goodman) looking for Allen’s pen pal and perpetual criminal chaos machine Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).

The subsequent proceedings—which are more “Road Trip” than “Hangover”—are intensely plotted and over-plotted, and then over-plotted some more as the movie winds its way back to Vegas, where the franchise began.

But at every turn in the apparently taxing writing process, you imagine Phillips and Mazin working out the laborious story mechanics while thinking, “We don’t need to come up with actual jokes or gags— Galifianakis and Jeong will improvise all that funny stuff on set.” Except there’s the sense that the comic actors showed up on location, took one look at the aggressively humor-free script and thought, “Screw it, we don’t need this anymore—if they’re not gonna try, why the hell should we?”

In 2009, the darkly cruel and misanthropic The Hangover worked well enough the first time out because we were encouraged to dislike the protagonists and revel in the Karmic payback of their grotesque misfortunes. However, lucrative comedy franchises do not succeed with characters everyone hates, nor can audiences continue to watch and re-watch these comedies without developing a connection to the characters. It’s human nature: We gravitate toward identifying with increasingly familiar protagonists, and no matter how miserably Phil, Allen, and Stu suffer, these days we can’t help but see them as cool movie stars caught up in the sort of wild and crazy adventures we secretly wish we had.

hangover-3-bradley-zach-edThat’s what made the first follow up, 2011’s Hangover II, so repulsive, so anti-human: It was no longer laughing at these three losers getting their just desserts, but laughing with them at dirty, poor people and strange cultures different from Good Ol’ Frat Bro USA.

By the time we get to Hangover III, four years and half a billion dollars of profit into this wretched ride, the film no longer wants us to laugh at or with it and its increasingly “rap-video-cool” “heroes”—it doesn’t care if we laugh at all. (For the record, I chuckled exactly once during Hangover III, at a subtle-by-Hangover-standards throwaway line I’d already seen in the trailer.)

Despite a mawkish, half-hearted attempt to have Allen “learn and grow” in the margins, Hangover III doesn’t just sneer at its on-screen characters or the innocent bystanders sucked into their increasingly played-out and predictable misadventures, it hates its audience. Not only do the actors shuffle along with the noncommittal listlessness of strippers working the Sunday afternoon shift, but every scene feels glazed-over by Phillips’ bored contempt for the material and the viewers. He seems to think that as long as he puts the same actors through their familiar paces, people will show up and laugh at whatever is (or isn’t) onscreen. Meanwhile, there’s nothing more tedious than forced outrageousness.

(Poor Melissa McCarthy gets dropped into the middle of all this for a few scenes, clearly thinking she’d be part of the sort of vibrant improvisational environment that lets her shine on a Judd Apatow set. Sadly she found she’d signed onto a project long since drained of all energy and passion.)

hangover3-sucker6230-jpg_202241Where Hangover I and II at least toyed with the notion of fish out of water in the strange and seedy underbellies of Vegas and Bangkok, Hangover III spends most of its running time spinning its wheels in nondescript Arizona and Mexican villa locales.

Yes, the Wolf Pack goes to Tijuana, a place seemingly tailor-made for Hangover hi-jinks, but no, the film doesn’t do much with the setting. You could almost respect that as an attempt to stymie expectations—“You thought we were going to go crazy in Tijuana, but we’re not going to be that predictable”—except like everything in the film, the choice feels lazy, not ironic. It’s a long, slow hour before the film even arrives back in Vegas.

Only Hangover III’s brief post-credits scene pops with anything like the gleefully chaotic surprise and humor of the original film. But even that coda—in which the characters wake to one of the blackout hangovers that propelled the first two films—feels like a smug “eff-you” to the audience, as if to say, “Here’s a taste of the movie we could have made, but didn’t feel like. Thanks for buying a ticket. Now go get your shine box.”

“And be back here for Hangover IV, schmucks.”