Hangover Part III, The (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has been off his meds for six months and is in dire need of an intervention. His family has found a treatment facility in Arizona and his friends—Stu (Ed Helms), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil (Bradley Cooper)—agree to take him there. While making their way through a desert, their car is run off the road by a truck. Inside are armed men wearing pig masks. They work for Marshall (John Goodman) who is very upset because Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) had stolen his gold. He thinks that the wolf pack know the man enough to be able to track him. If they fail to present Mr. Chow to Marshall within three days, Doug is as good as dead.
“The Hangover Part III,” written by Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin, has no reason to exist. Clearly, it received the green light because there is dinero to be made. Nobody cared about creativity, making the audience laugh, or creating a good movie. This is as depressing as it gets. It proves that sitting through over ninety minutes of mostly unfunny and forced gags is a draining and maddening experience.
Instead of focusing on how the movie is an endurance test one cannot win, I choose to mention bits that do work. Though evanescent and few, they are there—if one is forgiving enough to see through the boredom and lack of inspiration.
The shining star, not surprisingly, is Melissa McCarthy, playing a pawnshop clerk with whom Alan has fallen for. McCarthy makes the correct decision to play it small because the men’s personalities are larger-than-life. This way, by playing an ordinary character who can be vulnerable and tough, she stands out. The lollipop scene is outstanding. Since it is so effective, I wondered by McCarthy was not given a bigger role to play.
I have always found Alan’s creepy, homoerotic remarks toward Phil to be awkward and odd or somewhat amusing. Galifianakis’ line deliveries during these scenes are close to perfect and having Cooper’s character respond in a macho but secure way is icing on the cake. There is an element of comedy to it because, in real life, most or many straight men that do look like Cooper’s character tend to respond with a level or tone of animosity.
So why is the movie not good? It is a question worth asking because, in my opinion, the on-screen talent is there. Occasionally, they are able to rise above what is on paper because they allow their charm and energy to seep through. The writing lacks a special punch that made the first of the series so surprising and enjoyable. Here, there is nothing to discover about the characters or the wild situations they are thrusted into. In other words, it has nothing to go on and yet the film is made anyway.
Directed by Todd Phillips, “The Hangover Part III” is pessimism on a platter. Though I am optimistic and try to separate what works from what does not, one thing is certain: I do not respond well to mediocrity—a trait embedded in the marrow of this movie. One can only hope that the screenwriters will have enough insight to stop and create a project that is more fulfilling—to them and us—one that contributes something to the art form.
Lorax, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Mr. O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle), the richest businessman in town who sold fresh oxygen in bottles, believed that Thneedville was perfect just the was it was: no trees, no animals, no mess to clean up. In their giant dome, to everyone’s convenience, everything was made out of plastic. When Audrey (Taylor Swift) confessed to Ted (Zac Efron), who happened to have a crush on her, that what she wanted for her birthday was a real tree, Ted courageously explored outside of Thneedville to look for one. Among the barren and ominous land was a house inhabited by a reclusive man called The Once-ler (Ed Helms), the person responsible as to why trees became extremely rare. Based on the book by Dr. Seuss and directed by Chris Renaud, “The Lorax,” despite its sometimes dazzling use of visuals, was at best a mixed bag of humor, adventure, and lessons about why we should care for the environment. The story was somewhat divided into two. The first involved Ted’s quest to acquire a tree and the second involved The Once-ler’s past as an ambitious and inventive young man. In the latter, we got to meet The Lorax, the guardian of the forest who spoke for the trees, which was the more interesting section of the film. While the screenplay spent more time with the youthful Once-ler, many of the scenes were plagued with distracting song and dance–only one or two of which were catchy and creative. The rest were not only jarring to the eardrums but they disrupted the story’s chance of gathering real momentum and drama, a sense of immediacy required to deliver a truly meaningful message about our active as well as inactive roles, such as feelings of apathy, in destroying our natural resources. I thought the bears were adorable, particularly the one that carried more weight than the others and so he was forced to lag behind whenever a physical activity was demanded, and The Lorax was a cuddly creature despite his occasional grumpiness. However, mostly relying on cuteness to propel the story forward with fluidity wasn’t enough to sustain the film especially considering its level of ambition. Furthermore, I did not appreciate that The Once-ler’s family was portrayed in such a one-dimensional way. I was able to accept that they were not very supportive of The Once-ler’s dreams of becoming a successful businessman. But there was something about them being portrayed as, pardon my language, rednecks that didn’t feel right. They were shown as greedy, users, and uncaring people. Not one exception who happened to fit all the stereotypes was presented. Since the work was aimed toward young children, I felt that the filmmakers, especially Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul who were in charge of the screenplay, had a responsibility to avoid cultural stereotypes. If the family had been Chinese, Indian or Filipino and their characterizations simply relied on ugly stereotypes, one could argue that the material was being racist. I may come off as a Grinch but despite the best intentions and morals that “The Lorax” wanted to impart about our vital connection to nature, its hits were inconsistent, its pacing too uneven, and its clichés potentially damaging to warrant a recommendation. Its theme in terms of empathy needed to be ironed out.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
As Jeff (Jason Segel) relaxed on the couch in the basement while smoking hookah and watching television, the man on the infomercial urged his viewers to pick up the phone. A beat later, the phone rang. Perplexed by this coincidence, Jeff, a man who believed in everything happening for a reason and a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” picked up the call. The man on the other line was looking for Kevin, but no one lived in that household other than Jeff and his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Given a favor by his mom to pick up supplies at Home Depot, Jeff ended up following various clues as to who Kevin was and how that person was connected to him. Based on the screenplay and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, despite being submerged in coincidences, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” was clearly about love and family. This was dealt with in three fronts: the crumbling marriage of Pat (Ed Helms) and Linda (Judy Greer), Sharon and the instant messages sent to her by an anonymous co-worker who claimed to have a crush on her, and the barely existent bond between the two brothers, Jeff and Pat. Because the human element was believable, even though strange coincidences piled on top of one another, it was always easy to relate to the characters. What I found most interesting was most of them viewed themselves as painfully ordinary and they defined their lives by the ordinariness of every day. There was talk of dreaming about eating at fancy restaurants, living The American Dream, and visiting exotic, faraway places– all of which promised excitement and self-fulfillment. And then there was Jeff, happily ensconced in the possibility of small magic embedded in the routine. He was the heart of the picture and Segel embodied his character with quiet pride. Although Jeff towered over people in stature, he wasn’t domineering in terms of physicality and comportment. He looked soft and slow-moving. I liked that he felt he didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. Naturally, since he and Pat were almost complete opposites–one a dreamer, the other a pragmatist–there was tension in their relationship. Although not an exact parallel, it was an angle that I could relate with because my brother and I differ in about every respect. When Jeff and Pat argued, there was an obvious sense of humor in their disagreements yet the resentment they had for one another was consistently hidden underneath pointed words and phrases. The script stood out not just because it had an ear toward how people really talked but it wasn’t afraid touch sensitive truths that may go unnoticed to, for instance, people who are an only child. The film’s weakness, however, involved Pat and Jeff spying on Linda because she was potentially having an affair. It went on for too long and most of the clichés didn’t have enough twists in them to make the subplot interesting all the way through. At times it felt so convoluted that it began to affect the pacing of what was going on in Sharon’s place of work. I also wished Greer was given more to do because she has such range in comedy and drama. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” showcased a thirty-something protagonist with not much aim in life–probably not many of us can relate to. But he wanted to be understood and surely everyone can relate to that.
Hangover Part II, The (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Two years after a bachelor’s party turned into horrendous but hilarious mess in Las Vegas, Phil, (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha) headed to Thailand to see Stu (Ed Helms) get married to Lauren (Jamie Chung), despite the father of the bride’s disapproval of the groom. Two nights before the big day, the four friends, along with Lauren’s sixteen-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), each quaffed a bottle of harmless beer at the beach. The next day, Phil and Alan woke up alongside Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), an international criminal, with Doug and Teddy missing. Like last time, the party had no choice but to retrace their steps, find the persons of interest, and get back to the wedding in time. The cardinal sin that “The Hangover Part II,” written by Craig Mazin, Scott Armstrong, and Todd Phillips, committed was underestimating their audiences’ capacity to appreciate a sequel that, in the least, tried to be original. I had no qualms about the characters making an utter fool of themselves by getting into the most ridiculous situations involving Russians and their pet monkey, prostitutes with something unexpected in their panties, and Paul Giamatti being devilishly magnetic as a crime boss, but giving us a facsimile of its predecessor was not only lazy on the filmmakers’ part, it was also quite pessimistic and insulting. Given that the first film was such a success nationally and internationally, one would expect that the writers would at least try to come up with something different so that, after watching the final product, we would be begging to see more. The characters weren’t allowed to move past their adventures in Vegas and I wondered, with great frustration, why not. Alan kept bringing up what had happened in Vegas two years ago in almost every other scene. It was counterproductive because instead of drawing us into this specific new adventure and slowly revealing why frolicking all over Thailand was special in its own right, referencing to its counterpart forced us to compare analogous scenes–this one overwhelmingly inferior. The jokes ranged from bad to completely absent. I didn’t see what was so funny about smoking monkeys and ten-year-old kids engaging in underaged drinking. Nor did I recognize why the characters eventually broke out in song instead of just engaging in silence. At times, scenes with a poverty of words can work given the right timing and direction. These guys embodied hedonism which, in reality, almost always comes with a price. Instead of being boisterous jerks all the time, stereotypically American in that they had no regard or respect toward other cultures, why not allow them to sit and consider the fact that perhaps their heedlessness led them exactly where they should be and deservingly so? “The Hangover Part II,” clumsily directed by Todd Phillips, was a comedy that was diffident in terms of dealing with real emotions. Sure, it was about having fun and getting into trouble afterwards. But the filmmakers had forgotten that their project was about friendship, too. From what I saw, these guys were not worthy of each other’s friendships. Then why should they be worthy of our time?
Cedar Rapids (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) was an honest insurance salesman. He was comfortable living in a small town and changing people’s lives for the better. He was described as the guy who could have gone places but actually didn’t go anywhere. When one of his colleagues passed away due to autoerotic asphyxiation, he was asked by his boss (Stephen Root) to attend an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and win an award for their region. Tim was warned not to interact with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) but, as luck would have it, they ended up sharing a hotel room. Written by Phil Johnston and directed by Miguel Arteta, “Cedar Rapids” was surprisingly human. I expected the film to rely solely on awkward situations and slapstick comedy to generate most of its laughs. Helms had a knack for the former, while Reilly built his career on the latter. The two actors fed off one another. When the camera was transfixed on them, my body automatically prepared itself to laugh because my brain knew that Helms and Reilly understood both the value of a punchline and, more importantly, precision of delivery. But the movie wasn’t just about the laughs. It was also about Tim venturing out into the world and realizing how fun, dangerous, and rewarding it could be to make friends who were entirely different from himself. There was one very amusing scene when Tim was shocked to find an African-American man, Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), in his room. Furthermore, I was particularly interested in Tim’s relationship with Joan (Anne Heche), a married woman with kids. She saw the convention as a means of escape from the routine and, although much of it was unsaid, I believed she saw something in Tim that she craved, perhaps a quality that her husband lacked, but could never have because she already had a life. The way Heche delivered certain looks inspired me to dig beyond what her character was willing to outwardly share. There was a certain sadness between the two scavenger hunt partners and the film’s final moments worked because I believed their relationship, not necessarily romantic, would continue. Back home, Tim was involved with his former grade school teacher (Sigourney Weaver). The writing could easily have been lazy, relying on jokes that involved the word “cougar,” but I loved that the material didn’t look down on Tim and Macy’s relationship. Sure, she was over fifteen years older than him but a handful of scenes suggested that they shared something meaningful. “Cedar Rapids” took ordinary people and allowed them to work, play, and form friendships in an honest, emotionally resonant manner. More mainstream comedies can only aspire to be as such.
Hangover, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Bradley Cooper (he’s seems to be in everything these days such as “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Yes Man” and “The Midnight Meat Train”), Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha star as four friends who decide to go to Las Vegas for Bartha’s bachelor party. The four make a toast on the roof of Caesar’s Palace hotel and the movie cuts to the next day as the first three try to figure out why there’s a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, and where the missing groom could be. (Not to mention Helms’ missing tooth.) Their efforts to find out what truly happened the night before lead to very funny (and often ludicrous) situations. I’ve heard from a lot of people this film was gut-wrenchingly funny (as in “Superbad”-funny) so I really had high expectations coming into it. Although it wasn’t quite as funny as I thought it would be (nor was it comparable to “Superbad” because this is geared more toward adults), I have to admit that this is probably the funniest movie of 2009 so far. Its timing of release couldn’t be any more perfect because it’s summer and people often head to Sin City to have some fun. Todd Phillips, the director, was smart enough to make this farce buddy film as short as possible. Only lasting over an hour and thirty minutes, each scene was consistently funny except for about fifteen minutes somewhere in the middle. While it was able to make fun of the characters either by being flat-out mean or crude, their interactions were realistic. I can easily picture actual people saying and doing certain things the characters say and do and that’s why it was so much fun to watch. The brilliant one-liners from Galifianakis reminded me of things that my friends might say when they’re drunk and unaware of things that are happening around them. I also liked the fact that it didn’t quite glamorize Las Vegas. Instead of featuring posh people doing really cool things (which brings caper films and movies like “21” to mind), it focused on regular individuals who are flawed and have actual problems outside their vacation in Vegas; no matter how smart or slick they think they are, they are capable of making mistakes that they do not necessarily learn from. But that’s just me trying to look under the surface. If one is looking for a comedy movie that one can watch with friends on a slow weekend, this is definitely the one to watch because it can easily inspire a night out (no matter how late it is).