Editor’s Note: I meant to post this last week, but didn’t have a consistent enough internet connection. Apologies. Better late than never, I hope?
At the risk of losing all credibility, I didn’t mind The Hangover II. Yes, it was basically the exact same plot as the first, but the first had a formulaic plot to begin with, so it’s not like the second was pissing on the Mona Lisa or anything. Set up, goose chase, celebrity cameo, funny animal encounter, Zach Galifianakis pronouncing words funny, Ken Jeong’s dick, repeat. While the second may have had an identical crappy plot structure, on a micro, joke-execution level, it was fine. Alan made a funny speech, a monkey smoked cigarettes, and at the end they re-enacted that famous picture of the Vietcong execution with Ken Jeong in a drunken snapshot. If that’s not funny to you, fine, but it’s not shitty, broad comedy. It gives you the opportunity to not laugh at it, which I think is a big part of what separates enjoyable comedy from obnoxious comedy. The parts of a comedy where you’re not laughing but you’re still enjoying yourself are what give it character. Think of it this way: your friends don’t have to make you laugh every second of every day, they just have to not annoy the piss out of you.
The Hangover III, meanwhile, is ALL big, broad comedy, a movie that never met a hacky punchline it didn’t scream at the top of its lungs and then repeat two seconds later. It’s screechy and flailing in a way that doesn’t allow you to not laugh in peace, it’s always grabbing you by the shoulders and shrieking two inches from your face, your only options laughing at their shitty jokes or screaming “ALRIGHT ALREADY” and storming out of the room. It’s not just unfunny, it’s exhausting.
Let’s start with just the scenes in the trailer, because God forbid I spoil any of this masterpiece for you. You probably remember the part where Zach Galifianakis is towing a trailer with a giraffe in it, until the giraffe appears to get decapitated by an overpass, just before the trailer cuts. If you’re wondering what the context of that scene is in the actual movie… THERE IS NONE. In fact it’s the opening scene. Zach Galifianakis is apparently just such a wacky dude that he’s bought a giraffe, and figured out all the logistics of how one goes about buying a giraffe and finding a trailer and getting the giraffe onto the trailer and getting the trailer attached to the car, and he has somehow made it from wherever he went to buy this giraffe onto a freeway without noticing that the giraffe is too tall to fit under a freeway overpass, which is basically the highest clearance of any clearance and regularly allows passage of the biggest semi-trucks. And, once you’ve accepted ALL of that, what’s the pay off? A giraffe getting decapitated! Which we already know happens! Look, nothing against ridiculous jokes. Not every bit has to or should be observational. But here’s the thing about ridiculous bits: they’re a lot funnier when you take something ridiculous and gradually build it to the point that the ridiculous is believable. Like a farce. Here, we get dropped into the middle and we get “Hey, what if a giraffe got decapitated?” AND THAT’S THE WHOLE JOKE. Hey, what if f*ck you?
In the Hangover 3, jokes aren’t built or crafted with any artisty, they’re just the kernels, the absolute rudiments of some guy’s Wacky Idea Outline farted in our general direction. It takes something ridiculous, crams it in dry, and then comments on how ridiculous it was. It’d be one thing if the giraffe bit somehow added something to the story or came into play later in some way, but it doesn’t, it’s just “WASN’T IT CRAZY WHEN ALLEN KILLED THAT GIRAFFE?” which is something the characters actually say one scene later. They’re constantly commenting on stuff that just happened in this movie, as if we didn’t just see it, as if it would somehow improve in the retelling.
Likewise, there’s the scene where Alan falls in love with Melissa McCarthy at her pawn shop. You remember that from the trailer, right? There’s even less build to this joke, because the SEXY MUSIC starts playing before Zach G and Melissa M have even said one goddamned word to each other. It’s Geico-commercial/Seltzer-Friedberg-level joke construction, where we’re just supposed to accept that these two have fallen madly in love at first sight because LOL FATTIES. You know how people always say “show don’t tell?” The background music in this scene is the epitome of telling, because it’s telling you these two are in love before anything has even happened. And again, no payoff. Just, hey, this seems like a joke.
And then on the way out of the pawn shop, where there are guitars and cellos and musical instruments hanging foreshadowingly behind him, smitten Alan is so lost in his own world that he accidentally knocks over a cello (because hey, that’s an obvious sitcom joke). Then, after getting them all re-stacked, just in case you might have missed it, he DOES IT AGAIN. I actually groaned at the screen, out loud, by myself in a room full of strangers.
Ken Jeong’s character was always a grating, over-the-top gimmick character, but in the first and second Hangover you could sort of accept him because he was dancing around stark naked, which at least was sort of a bold choice at the time. Here, there’s not even that, he’s just a bad accent and a collection of gay jokes (nothing against Ken Jeong, by the way, he’s talented, he just needs someone to tell him to dial it down about five notches, that he can be funny without shouting, like when he played the doctor in Knocked Up). And the entire plot centers around his character (which also makes no sense, but let’s not get off track). The Wolf Pack is constantly thinking up elaborate ways to kidnap him, which is tedious to sit through, because it kinda seems like you could just walk up and grab him, considering there are three or four of you and he’s a small Asian man. At one point, Chow is partying in a hotel suite at Caesar’s and the gang’s big plan to catch him is to sneak into the back room of the hotel, steal a bunch of sheets, and make a knotted sheet rope to rappel down from the roof onto his balcony. Now, ignoring the fact that there’s no way you’re going to sneak anywhere in a Vegas casino, which have tighter security than a presidential motorcade, if you ARE in the backroom, wouldn’t you just steal his key? Or… just… follow room service into the front door? Since it seems like there are a bunch of strangers coming and going to his room as it is? That wouldn’t even ruin your payoff, which was Chow base jumping off the balcony and singing “I Believe I Can Fly” and shouting “I LOVE COCAINE” on the way down. These are third grader jokes, and not the good kind.
I don’t pretend to know what went on during the scripting process, but I do know that the first and second Hangovers listed Scot Armstrong as a writer, who co-wrote previous Todd Phillips comedies like Old School and Road Trip – movies that were wacky, but could execute. Armstrong’s not listed in the Hangover III writing credits, just Craig Mazin, who in addition to the second Hangover has writing credits on Identity Thief, Senseless, and Scary Movies 3 and 4. I’m not sayin’ I’m just sayin’, Hangover III’s jokes remind me a lot more of Scary Movie 3 than they do Old School. There’s no execution or craft to anything, just more and more flailing, like someone shoveling whoopie cushions into a fart pool. Everything’s either a mild chuckle or a disgusted groan. Give me some romance, some loud/soft, like a Pixies song. Hangover 3 is more like Limp Bizkit.