The Hangover Part III and Kick-Ass 2: Delightful if not so funny

The-Hangover-3-2013

The Hangover Part III – 2013

Director Todd Phillips
Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, Jamie Chung, John Goodman
Screenplay Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin

kick-ass-2

Kick-Ass 2 – 2013

Writer and Director Jeff Wadlow
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Clark Duke, Olga Kurkulina, Lindy Booth, John Leguizamo, Morris Chestnut, Donald Faison

Two notable comedies had sequels in the summer of 2013, and both were considered disappointments to many in the press.  One who actually viewed the previous entries had every reason to be excited.

Kick-Ass (***1/2 out of ****) was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010.  Its lack of pretense was as surprising as it was enthralling.  The best things about it, Moretz’ effortless lethality, Johnson’s clueless and unbounded enthusiasm and Nicolas Cage is his normal lunatic self.  And Cage dies in the end!  How could it be any better?  Mintz-Plasse is how.  His brash coming out party lights up the last act.

In the time since, he’s fussed and fumed.  Complaining to his mom, he inadvertently kills her and rechristens himself a name I will not use, but you can see in the poster above.  Dave has time to retire, then come out of retirement and begin training with Hit Girl.  The young orphan Mindy has moved in with her dad’s friend Marcus (Chestnutt) who wants her to start her freshman year of high school with a clean slate and, you know, stop maiming and killing elements of the underworld.

All of these moving parts create a chaos in which new characters emerge, some recede and some manage to do both.  Jim Carrey gives a brave, unsung performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes.  He does not come across as heroic as one would expect someone of his past star power.  It was as unexpected a turn as Cage’s from the first film.  Whatever it was that allowed him to condemn that performance and the movie itself (come on now, he had to know there was gun violence before he made it), he shows an inability to understand the irony of the film. It’s a sad point when the comedian is the one who laughs last…because he doesn’t get it.

To Carrey’s point, the violence is numbing, as it makes it hard to invest much into the characters.  It’s hard to like Dr. Gravity (Faison), when one thinks he’s going to end up on the wrong side of that bat.  At the same time, how is it that Duke’s Battle Guy could even joke about apprehending anyone as Battle Guy?  On the one hand, we have such incredible brutality, and on the other we have dunces with no physical prowess in the slightest.  We get that this is the filmmaker’s way of making the film one big “don’t try this at home,” but the message is lost in the fantastic luck the protagonists have when it comes to battle.

The energy of the film is driven mostly from the childish energy put forth by Mintz-Plasse.  It’s mindless, dark and ruthless.  Meaningless too.  It would seem a strong commentary on the aimless youth, but it doesn’t resonate as any sort of truth.  Seeing the bad guys being truly bad makes their demise that much more fun to watch, though.

What is true is the development of the two leads.  Moretz’ is a genuine star.  She’s growing into a strong young woman by now, and her command of the screen is that of an actor twice her age.  Watching the ever so gradual development of her relationship with Johnson is moving gradually from cute into something truly interesting.  It’s the one thing that makes me hope the film becomes a trilogy.

The Hangover III (***1/2 out of *****) starts promisingly for no other reason than no one is drugged and wakes up disoriented.  The 2nd time was enough for the formula, but the characters deserved a 3rd try.   The try is a success for reasons beyond The Wolf Pack, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Todd Phillips has struggled to come up with a truly successful storyline since the original blew the doors off conventional comedy in 2009.

This story’s engine is turned, like the second story, with the manic and intentionally stereotypical energy of Jeong.  We still get a steady dose of Galifianakis’ obtuse Alan.  Their relationship is unconventionally affectionate and really kind of adorable.  Cooper’s Phil and Helm’s Stu still fill in the gaps, making the recurring journey to recover Bartha’s Doug feel like a genuine even, no matter how many times we have to head back the same road.

Part of the appeal to the series is the lens through which it is filmed.  The sepia tint is sharply drawn and looks beautiful.  This beauty shows the desperation of their circumstance even more sharply.  3 movies in, it’s still fun to watch the desperation creep over the face of Cooper while Helms submits to his worst fears.  It’s just not all that funny any more.

There are some laugh out loud moments, like the crude freeway “mess”acre on the freeway and Chow’s flight through the night-time Vegas skies.  The rest of it, though, is mainly just smirk worthy.  By the time we get to the end, one comes to the realization that this is the third movie in a row where we get hugging and learning for Alan.  This would have been a disappointment, were it not for the post credits scene.

It’s over for The Wolf Pack.  I suppose it’s just about time.  They could do this forever and, given the over all financial success of the franchise, they have every reason to do so.  They called it quits while still slightly ahead.  On the power of the first film and two decent following films, it’s one of the best comedy trilogies in history.  I would have to say it ranks behind Back to the Future, The Cornetto Trilogy and just in front of The Naked Gun (thanks for ruining it, O.J.).  It’s not a crowded field, though.  I am not sure I could name more trilogies than those.  American Pie and The Jersey films don’t count.  The first  went to 8 films (4 direct to video).  The second featured Ben Affleck.  Hopefully The Hangover won’t ruin what they’ve accomplished by doing either.

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