Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Hangover Part III

THE HANGOVER PART III: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, directed by Todd Phillips (100 min.)

Perhaps the largest and loudest complaint aboutThe Hangover Part II was that it was a carbon copy of the original instant classic, only it wasn't funny and was generally a mess from top to bottom.  That left little hope for the third installment, but director Todd Phillips must have had some sort of strange, offbeat epiphany on the way to shooting The Hangover Part III.  The audience wanted something different, and I can't imagine anything more off the beaten path of the first two Hangover films.  Some may say it isn't funny, but I don't even think it tries to be funny.  Rather than try and do a third straight comedy with these characters, Phillips appears to be trying to change genres almost completely.  There is something edgy, thrilling, even soulful about The Hangover Part III, as unusual as that sounds.  But this is an unusual film.

The quartet of friends are back.  Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper are back as Stu and Phil, the pair of straight men to the increasingly deranged and unstable Alan, played again by Zach Galifianiakis.  Alan is so out in left field he is barely in the park these days, and having not one but two straight men to his routine feels necessary to keep at least some of the film anchored in reality.  And of course there is Doug (Justin Bartha), here for the sole purpose of plot once again.  As the film opens Alan gets into trouble with a giraffe he just bought, sending his father (Jeffrey Tambour) into a fit and an eventual heart attack that kills him on the spot.  At the funeral, Stu and Phil and Doug all agree to be part of an intervention with Alan, who has been off his meds for a while and appears to be slowly going insane.

The intervention sends the four friends down to Arizona where the rehab center is located, but along the way they are wrecked and accosted by Marshall, a sleazy, wealthy crook played by John Goodman.  It seems Marshall was swindled out of $21 million in gold bars by Mr. Chow, played once again and thankfully with a little reserve by Ken Jeong.  And who better than "The Wolfpack" to find out where he is?  It seems one of the group has been in touch with Chow over the years, I'll let you guess which one.

Marshall takes Doug hostage and the ransom is Chow and the whereabouts of the gold bars.  This sends the trio back into action to try and track down Chow and bring him back.  Normally, this is where certain hijinks and comedy mishaps would pile on top of one another until we meet a rousing conclusion.  Only this film doesn't take the easy comedy route.  It never had that intention; this film becomes an action thriller in a sense.  The comedy is left up to Alan, and as he is honestly the only one delivering the laughs it changes the entire dynamic of the film and of the characters.  It singles out Alan and subsequently points out his clear mental illness.  Even Alan has a few touching moments, including a scene with Carlos the baby from the original film, now four years old.  This scene and a handful of other scenes caught me off guard.

If you wanted something different with this third Hangover film, I can't imagine anything more in the other direction.  Todd Phillips is doing something very risky and extremely unusual here, shifting genres from a comedy to some hybrid of drama, thriller, action, and a little humor.  I smelled something fishy early on, as the four friends are kidnapped in a scene that was not funny in the least, and as the story unfolded I found myself engaged in the action and not caring about whether or not the laughs were coming.  Galifianakis has some hefty lines once again, but the heart of this picture is much darker, much more concerned with actual suspense, and for some odd reason the experiment works for me.  Calling this a comedy might be ignoring what Todd Phillips is trying to accomplish.