As bad as so many sequels are, I often find myself feeling sorrier for the characters in them than the audiences who subject themselves to overly familiar franchises. I mean, think about it. Can you imagine being the characters in the Hangover series? Caught in an endless cycle of increasingly less amusing catastrophes, coping with the growing certainty that some unjust, omniscient force with a malicious sense of violent humor had decided to spend its every waking moment making your life and the lives of your best friends a very specific recycled brand of hell?
To that end, I guess The Hangover Part III tracks as a reasonably hopeful entry in what has, to this point, been America’s most beloved faceplant into the puke-strewn gutter. Unlike the first two films, in which the Wolf Pack put on their thinking caps to get to the bottom of what exactly went down while they were all wearing their drinking caps, Part III sees the group convincing Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the most muddled member of the quartet, to enter into rehab — presumably to detox his soul more so than his liver. And then they are instantly sidelined by a series of misadventures involving the mob, Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong, gleefully repaying the series for bringing him to new prominence), and not Mike Tyson.
Which is to say, instead of being forced to atone for their own errors in judgment, here the Wolf Pack have to answer for the malfeasance of everyone around them. Will Sisyphus never rest?
It’s hard to fault a sequel that makes such a noble attempt to avoid merely repeating a winning formula in its every detail (which is what the second installment did and, in turning up the grotesque factor to obscene levels, alienated a massive chunk of its fan base). But in taking out the architecture, director Todd Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin also Hoovered out all the laughs.
What’s left is a vaguely self-loathing gross-out comedy strung out on mood stabilizers. The Wolf Pack may emerge from the film far more even-tempered, their cyclical nightmare presumably over. The audience is going to howl for blood.
In contrast to The Hangover‘s entirely joyless act of atonement, the Fast/Furious saga has done a pretty stellar job moving its franchise from one genre to the next without betraying its core set of values — from street racing actioneers to globe-trotting heist flicks to international capers for the age of terrorism.
That’s because the “characters” within the films’ universe are flexible enough archetypes to bend accordingly, and yet still remain cohesive as an ensemble — a “family,” as Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto says on more than one occasion during Fast & Furious 6.
Now scattered around the globe with the $100 million they nabbed in Fast Five, Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Roman Gibson (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris), Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) and Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) are summoned by the sporadically sweaty Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to throw a monkey wrench into the plans of super-terrorist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).
Six films in and there isn’t anything particularly sophisticated about Justin Lin’s orchestration of these sleek wheelings and dealings. The action isn’t as clean as it could be, and the stakes never actually seem as high as they probably should, given the set-up. (Conversely, the runway that serves as the locale for a car-versus-cargo-plane showdown is longer than the Saharan Desert.) But there’s a relaxed geniality among this ensemble that, against the likes of The Hangover, seems downright Hawksian.
On a general level, this is stupid done reasonably smart, as guilt-free pleasurable as the best Final Destination flicks.