*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras C
starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
screenplay by Todd Phillips & Craig Mazin
directed by Todd Phillips
by Angelo Muredda When Project X spilled forth from its amniotic septic tank last spring, I read it as a prime example of a producer-driven form of auteurism pioneered by Judd Apatow. That found-footage chronicle of a house party-turned-apocalypse, I suggested, was a monument to producer Todd Phillips's equally noxious Hangover series, where the same Dionysian impulses and deep-seated hatred of the different--whether female, trans, queer, or disabled--were championed by a trio of middle-aged men. What a difference a year makes. If Project X was a brand consolidator and The Hangover Part II was a morbidly curious recalibration of its predecessor, displacing Phillips's demonic impulses and scarcely controlled misogynist rage from Bradley Cooper's Phil to Ed Helms's Stu, Part III is an actors' contract negotiation sputtered to life. Since the previous instalment, Cooper has become a respectable leading man and Oscar nominee and Helms has been savaged for the degeneration of his irritating Andy Bernard character on "The Office", while co-star Ken Jeong's fortunes have inexplicably risen. Consequently, gone now are the days of Phil's "Paging Doctor Faggot," along with Stu's loveable dude-rage and the Wolfpack's infinite jokes about Mr. Chow's shrunken Asian manhood. In their place is a surprisingly neutered, if inarguably more ethical, product with very few laughs and no reason for being.
From Chow's dank prison escape over the credits to the men's listless search for him at Caesar's Palace, there's an oddly fatalistic air that hangs over each major set-piece, which is only intensified by a repeated and unexplained violence against animals just barely played for laughs. The argument of the series has always been that men find their latent spirit animals only when their basic survival instincts kick in, but nobody seems to be having a revelatory or even a very good time here--including Chow, whose queerness and radical sexuality have been safely holstered this time out. (At the very least, this means fewer racist and homophobic dick jokes, though one is still too many.) The most one can say in defense of this mirthlessness is that the film settles into a mildly pleasant melancholy in the last act, as Alan, always the purest character and lone source of grace notes, finally gets to come of age.
As for Phillips, there's something to be said for his spatial logic and compositional sense in the heist and chase sequences: the only moments that really work. The Hangover movies have never looked as ugly as they've sounded, and you have to give credit to series DP Lawrence Sher for his widescreen vistas and contrastive palette; as flatly as Goodman's entrance is written, there's clear visual intelligence in the way his height advantage over the Wolfpack is erased by the dwarfing wind turbines of Tehachapi, California. One leaves this dead franchise hoping Phillips refocuses his energies from joyless comedy to action, becoming the coherent man's answer to Michael Bay.
by Bill Chambers Warner brings The Hangover Part III to Blu-ray in a status quo 2.40:1, 1080p presentation. It might even look the best of the three on the format, lacking the slightly electronic patina of the first film's transfer and the slight dimness of the second's. DP and franchise MVP Lawrence Sher unifies the disparate aesthetics of the movie's prequels with a kind of perpetual magic-hour that adapts beautifully to small-screen HiDef. Although apparently only the interiors were photographed digitally (with the rest being shot in Super35), some dusky exteriors, like the hilltop overlooking a twinkly Vegas in the climax, have a terrifically broad latitude to rival post-film Michael Mann, without any of the attendant noise. (Also, who knows what constitutes "interior" and "exterior" on a production that rebuilt the Caesar's Palace façade on a greenscreen soundstage.) It looks luxurious, clean but not noise-reduced, sharp but not processed, and never not cinematic; a scrim of fine grain throughout perhaps serves to equalize the digital and the photochemical. The only time the image falters is during moments of heavy compositing, such as the comparatively soft-focused giraffe sequence. Equally dynamic, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track seems to have been recorded a little louder than most Warner discs, which hammers home the unusual attention to immersion put into this "comedy" mix--care that is evident from the opening prison riot. Music manages to be both crystal clear and diegetically persuasive where applicable, while bass is at least as potent as it is on the upcoming Blu-ray release of Pacific Rim. The occasional thrown voice lands in the rear channels with impressive transparency.
Divided arbitrarily into "behind the scenes" and "featurettes," extras launch with "Replacing Zach: The Secret Auditions" (6 mins., HD), in which ubiquitous black holes of comedy like Rachael Harris, Jason Sudeikis (billed oddly fawningly as "movie star"), and Rob Riggle don fake beards and read Alan's most profane lines from the script. It's stupid. "The Wolfpack's Wildest Stunts" (5 mins., HD) is one of only two non-tongue-in-cheek pieces, showing how they ran a zipline across five or six casinos, dropped various skydivers from helicopters, and took control of the Bellagio fountains for Chow's hang-glide over Las Vegas. And that, friends, is why The Hangover Part III cost $70M more than the original. "Zach Galifianakis: In His Own Words" (3 mins., HD) cobbles together the uneven wisecracks from Galifianakis's talking head that didn't make it into the other segments, and "Pushing the Limits" (4 mins., HD) addresses the return of Grant Holmquist--one of eight kids who played Baby Tyler in The Hangover, according to a rare soundbite from Bradley Cooper--as well as PETA calling the producers about the giraffe beheading. "Inside Focus: The Real Chow" (5 mins., HD) is an excruciating thing that pretends Chow is real and Ken Jeong merely his "beard." Thanks again, Apatow. Lastly, "Action Mash-Up" (1 min., HD) is another one of those inexplicable montages devoted to every action beat. A two-minute block of three "Extended Scenes" (2 mins., HD) contains nothing noteworthy while the lengthy "Outtakes" reel (8 mins., HD) features lots of throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks improv, along with Ed Helms losing an insult battle when Galifianakis breaks character. A trailer for We're the Millers cues up on startup; DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film are bundled with the BD.