Two for the Road
By Carl Kozlowski
Sequels always present filmmakers with an odd dilemma: If the storylines are too close to the original films, critics and audiences will say they’ve created a lazy rip-off. And if they ever too much off the storyline that audiences loved in the first place, they risk alienating their fans as well.
This week, two mega-sequels are hitting theaters in what might prove to be the hottest weekend showdown of the summer, and they are both great examples of the aforementioned dilemma in action.
Fast and Furious 6 is the latest entry in the most successful action-film franchise of the last 20 years, The Fast and the Furious films. Likewise, The Hangover Part III seeks to keep the box-office magic going after its predecessors became the highest-grossing R-rated comedies of all time.
One might expect Fast to be the film that would be running low on ideas, but instead, the latest film manages to continue riding the revitalizing wave provided by its predecessor, Fast Five, in 2011. That part of the series, which is about illegal racing on the streets of LA, completely reinvented the stakes by having the core gang of antiheroes drive and fight their way through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. There, they join forces with a US government agent (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to take down a vicious crime lord while stealing $100 million from the villain in a brilliant heist.
This time, the gang is called back into action by the same federal agent in order to stop a British terrorist from procuring a multibillion-dollar high-tech device that can be used to shut down all the power in a nation. The fed also has photographic proof that the wife of lead hero Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is alive, long after she was believed to be dead. Now suffering from complete amnesia, she’s in the British gang and Toretto and his team set out to get her back.
That’s all you need to know, as that paragraph of plot points has set you up for the best action films in the business these days. The Fast movies are ludicrous, to be sure (and even co-star rapper Ludacris as the team’s high-tech wizard). The most emotional dialogue is rife with instant clichés that the audience howls at, but people come for the stunts. This movie delivers on so many levels—with insane hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot combat, car chases, hurtling tanks laying waste to vast swaths of public highways and a giant cargo plane dragging multiple carloads of our heroes from its wings—that any weak spots (dialogue, emotionally-driven acting) fall by the wayside.
Find your way to a theater and see it on a screen with amazing sound and oversized visuals, rather than on a TV at home, where nobody can hear anything.
With that said, The Hangover Part III is a perfect movie to see while bored at home.
Following what should be an enormous box-office opening rooted in hopeful curiosity from fans eager to see the new misadventures of the film’s protagonists, The Hangover Part III will likely sink like a rock when viewers spread the word that the film goes long stretches without supplying any laughs. Despite reuniting the core team of three lead actors (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) and director/co-writer Todd Phillips, the movie never really springs to life, and is so lacking in raunch that you could take the kids to see it if you didn’t care about them hearing foul language.
This time around, the Wolf Pack of best buddies teams up to help with an intervention for Alan (Galifianakis), an oddball who has stopped taking his psychiatric meds and is displaying increasingly bizarre behavior. They and Alan’s family want to send him to a psychiatric clinic in the Arizona desert, and he agrees to go on the condition his friends drive him there.
They wind up getting run off the road by a bizarre gang of thugs wearing pig masks and then captured and forced to answer to a crime kingpin named Marshall, played by John Goodman. It turns out that the notorious Mr. Chow (Ed Jeong) from the prior movies has ripped off Marshall’s crime syndicate, stealing $21 million in gold bars from him. Marshall gives them three days to find Mr. Chow and haul him in, or he’ll kill their buddy, Doug (Justin Bartha).
So the quest begins, with the filmmakers steering the film away from yet another storyline of the guys waking up hung over and forgetful after an epic night of debauchery. The expanded timeframe, and some of the surprises Mr. Chow has in store for them, are interesting twists on what has become a tired formula.
But while Hangover 3 has a great plot, it’s surprisingly lacking in laughs. The characters just swear about how frustrated they are by their circumstances without showing us any new circumstances worth crying about. Outside of Galifianakis, whose character takes center stage this time, all the performers look bored and tired—and that’s how you’ll feel most of the time if you drop your hard-earned cash on this movie.