Tired final act of lucrative gross-out franchise…
Something unexpected happened to Bradley Cooper between 2011’s The Hangover Part II and this final installment in the series: he was nominated for an Oscar. Up until that point, Cooper had risen almost without trace since his breakout role in JJ Abrams’ brilliant espionage series, Alias, via a series of meh-to-middling films – a trail of stalled would-be franchises (The A-Team), minor rom-coms (He’s Just Not That Into You) and forgettable action films (Limitless).
But unexpectedly, 2009’s The Hangover took $277 million in the States off a $35 million budget – necessitating a sequel and fast tracking Cooper’s career to the door of David O Russell, who cast him in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook. As much as I like David O Russell’s earlier films, personally I found the plaudits heaped on Playbook inexplicable – surely, this was just a contrived and sentimental rom-com? – while Cooper’s Best Actor nomination was simply mind-boggling. In Playbook, Cooper was required to play a character suffering a bipolar disorder – while this clearly pushed him out of his comfort zone, his response was simply to play mental illness as a quirk. Watching Cooper in Russell’s film, I couldn’t help thinking how prescient Robert Downey Jr’s “full retard” speech in Tropic Thunder now seems.
So, in 2013, with an Oscar nomination under his belt, The Hangover Part III feels very much like a contractual obligation for Cooper – moving wallpaper with two-day stubble and a pair of Aviator shades. His disinterest is pretty palpable – though arguably no more or less so than the rest of the filmmakers and cast who feel as if they’re dragging themselves through the motions here.
The story of a stag-do gone wrong, the first Hangover film was a bizarrely compelling frat comedy graced with an inventive structure and a freshness that came with casting relative unknowns in the leads – particularly an unsettling performance from Zack Galifianakis, as an bearded, sociopathic man-child. Really, it should have ended there. But market forces dictated otherwise, and such is the nature of Hollywood that The Hangover has been extended to a trilogy – the default setting for all middle-ranking movie franchises – which spreads the original concept perilously thin indeed.
Perhaps under the impression he needs to move the story on, writer/director Todd Phillips takes the entirely unwise step of attempting to inject his three main characters with more depth. There are misguided moments of reflection, commentary on how with domestication comes responsibility. Pointless gestures in what is, essentially, meant to be a comedy.
However – critically – The Hangover Part III isn’t particularly funny. Dispensing entirely with the set-up of a stag-do and its hilarious attendant mishaps, this installment more closely resembles an action movie. Here, our three leads – Cooper, Galifianakis and Ed Helms – find themselves crossing a gangster played by John Goodman as well as Mr Chow – Ken Jeong’s deranged Chinese gangster from the previous installments. There is kidnapping, murder, a heist, car chases, a body in a car boot. Not many jokes though.
There are moments that spark, though admittedly they’re precious few. One character, addressing mourners at his father’s funeral, admits, “I can’t believe my father is dead. I can think of other people I’d rather died first — like my mother.” Later, we learn that Mr Chow feeds a brace of fighting cocks on a diet of chicken meat and cocaine to keep them mean. Phillips film does prove, however, that the hangovers do indeed get worse, the older you get.
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