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Entries in project x (3)

Thursday
May232013

The Hangover Part III

Years from now, when people discuss the best comedies of this generation, I fully expect 2009’s “The Hangover” to feature prominently in their conversation. Although it certainly had its detractors, it was widely found to be quite funny, a consensus made by both the movie going public and the critic community. Its sequel, which can more appropriately be called a remake, was less successful in terms of quality because comedy requires the element of surprise to work and surprises were few and far between due to recycled jokes and plot lines. This week’s “The Hangover Part III” abandons the narrative structure of the previous films and successfully sets itself apart. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only things it’s successful at doing.

This time, the boys don’t have anything crazy planned. They have moved past the events from the previous two movies and are content with their lives, that is except for Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who tries to fill his emptiness with things like the purchasing of a giraffe, which he promptly and accidentally decapitates soon after. His wild life has led Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) to stage an intervention. This convinces Alan to enter rehab to get his life under control, but on the way, a drug kingpin named Marshall (John Goodman) rams them off the road. It turns out Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has stolen over $20 million in gold from him. Mr. Chow’s whereabouts are unknown since his escape from a prison near Bangkok, so he figures the Wolfpack may be able to find him. He takes Doug hostage and gives the trio three days to get his money back. Otherwise, Doug is dead.

The most common criticism that “The Hangover Part II” received was that it followed too closely to its predecessor. It’s a fair complaint, but it’s also understandable. Director Todd Phillips had something special with the first movie, a comedy that fired on all cylinders, provided plenty of laughs, had likable characters and a story with an intriguing mystery at its core. To want to recreate that magic a second time is perfectly reasonable, even if it did ultimately fail. But “The Hangover Part III” is another beast altogether. It does nothing but coast by on the franchise name and star power of its leads. It has no material to sustain a full length movie, only the thinnest of paper thin plots to move it along and jokes that oftentimes can hardly be considered such.

The jokes this time come at a far less frequent pace (and legitimate laughs even less so). Large chunks of the movie go by with nary a joke in sight, the only humorous moments coming from Galifianakis’ goofy demeanor and not from a witty script. This comes as no surprise since Galifianakis is the only one even trying, the others merely coasting by for the paycheck, clearly uninterested in what’s going on, but it’s a futile attempt. Galifianakis’ character was always written as the dimwitted one, the one that spoke before thinking, but his simplemindedness from the previous movies has now devolved into outright cruelty. Few would argue that the characters were walking examples of morality in the other movies, but much of their meanness came from name calling and harsh jokes among themselves, a normal occurrence between male friends. Here, the characters spill glasses on purpose for the house maid to clean up, verbally abuse old ladies in motorized wheelchairs and talk poorly to their mothers, to the point where Alan even wishes his mother dead.

Cruelty does not equate to comedy, a revelation made clear by recent debacles like “Bachelorette” and “Project X,” yet that’s nearly all “The Hangover Part III” has to offer. What little actual jokes it does have are unfunny or rehashes of other familiar jokes, like the model building joke from “Zoolander.” Its locations—prisons, funerals and interventions, just to name a few—simply aren’t ripe for comedy and very few movies with similar settings pull it off (the 2007 British film “Death at a Funeral” being a standout exception).

Although I’m sure many will prefer this narratively new film over the rehash that was “Part II,” this is nevertheless far worse. At least “Part II” tried. It was a lazy attempt, but it had a desire to be funny. This has no comedic flow or energy and laughs are scarce. What’s worse, the focus on Alan and Mr. Chow relegates both Stu and Phil to sidekicks who are given little to do. “The Hangover Part III” is a comedic abomination and, as a third entry to one of the funniest movies in recent memory, a colossal disappointment.

The Hangover Part III receives 1/5

Friday
Mar012013

21 and Over

You should know exactly what you’re getting when you walk into 21 and Over because the title explains it all. It’s another teen comedy that romanticizes the 21st birthday threshold and treats alcohol like it’s an all healing elixir. This isn’t a movie for those old enough to have actually experienced the night though. This is for those who dream about the day they can pop out their driver’s license and strut into a bar legally for the first time ever. Those people will find 21 and Over amusing, while in the process building up their dream birthday night even further, but the older crowd will walk out of this unimpressed, finding the shenanigans the characters get themselves into to be outlandish, despite some inevitable reminiscing on some of their own crazy nights. But what kills this movie from the same writers of The Hangover isn’t that it’s absurd (so was The Hangover); it’s that it’s not funny. At all.

Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is a pre-med student, pressured into becoming a doctor by his pushy father (Francois Chau). In the morning, he has a very important medical school interview, so he needs to stay in and get some sleep, but it's his 21st birthday and his best friends, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), have surprised him with a visit and have other plans. Although they promise to have him home at a reasonable time, they end up getting him completely wasted. Soon, Jeff can't even speak and they don't know where he lives. Miller and Casey quickly find themselves in a race against time, doing their best to get Jeff hope and prepped so he doesn't miss the most important interview of his life.

Writing a comedy must be hard. Comedy screenwriters typically aren't consistent, at least not in the way a dramatic writer like Aaron Sorkin is. No, they can produce a hit, one that manages to keep the laughs coming at a consistent pace, but that in no way guarantees they'll be anything more than a one hit wonder. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers of 21 and Over can attest to that. A quick glance at their filmography shows writing credits for Four Christmases, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Change-Up, The Hangover and The Hangover Part II. Precisely one of those movies was funny enough to be good. If their last couple movies are any indication, what they're doing now is no secret. They're trying to capture the magic that was The Hangover, but comedy requires surprise. It requires fresh ideas, not rehashes. They basically remade The Hangover with The Hangover Part II and now they've done it again with 21 and Over.

As with The Hangover movies, the story here revolves around a mystery: where exactly does Jeff live? They're give clues of course, but they're so blatantly obvious, it's insulting. When the characters finally figure it out 45 minutes to an hour after you already have, it means nothing. The story exists solely as a means for the characters to get in wacky situations and force as much alcohol down their throats as possible. This gives way to slow motion puking and the eating of a tampon, which, I suppose if you're really that drunk, could look like a candy bar.

This type of humor is of the lowest form. It grosses out to gain laughs, it tries to convince that the mere sight of a naked man is somehow funny and it overvalues the otherwise normal day that is someone's 21st birthday by devaluing things that actually matter like friendship and happiness. 21 and Over is the most wrongheaded party movie since last year's Project X, which shared a similar skewed view of the world, one that would be easy to dismiss were it not so sad. I don't want to over exaggerate; this is not a cinematic travesty—it contains at least a few legitimate laughs—but it's repulsive, immature and poorly written. It's a retread of Lucas and Moore's previous work, so why waste your time with it when the same, but superior film exists elsewhere?

21 and Over receives 0.5/5

Friday
Mar022012

Project X

Think of the wildest, craziest, most insane party you’ve ever been to. Think about the pretty girls, the hunky men, the loud music and the bountiful booze. Think of how it began to spin out of control. Now think of the one defining moment at that party where you thought to yourself, “This is too much for me.” Now take that memory and multiply it by 100. That’s where Project X lies. Its main goal (well, its only goal really), is to make you laugh by putting up on the screen the biggest, most deranged and morally uninhibited party you’ve ever seen. For those still at that partying age (or those who should be acting like adults by now but still prefer to act like idiots), Project X will interest you. I, however, found it hopelessly unfunny, offensive and a total waste of 90 minutes of my life.

There isn’t much of a story in Project X beyond its set up, which involves an upcoming birthday bash for Thomas (Thomas Mann). He’s still in high school and he isn’t very popular, so along with the help of his buddies, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), he sets out to throw the biggest bash his school body has ever seen while Dax (Dax Flame) records it all on camera.

And the resulting movie is as shallow as that plot synopsis. From the moment we meet these kids, especially Costa, who is introduced grabbing his crotch and singing the lyrics to one of the more provocatively titled 2 Live Crew songs, we immediately dislike them. They’re annoying, loud, perverted and sexist, continually referring to women as “hoes” and “bitches.” They’re little more than narrow-minded twits whose main goal for the night is to get laid, regardless of the destruction they cause around them. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process, just as long as they have fun. Everyone at the party acts like such buffoons that at one point, a grown man who lives across the street comes over and physically assaults one of them. Although such abuse is certainly not appropriate in the real world, this is one of the only movies I think I’ve ever been okay with an adult punching a young child in the face.

Their attitude and behavior is, of course, supposed to be funny, but instead it’s just kind of sad. There is nary a laugh to be had in this abysmal wasteland. As I know some will argue, the comedic value of Project X comes from taking every party movie you’ve ever seen and combining them, culminating in the most over-the-top and ridiculous backyard spectacle ever, but such a narrow focus isn’t inherently funny. It’s what you do with it that will make or break it. Unfortunately, absurdity doesn’t always equal hilarity and it’s simply not funny watching a handful of high school teenagers get high on ecstasy and drunk off tequila, knowing that their actions will most likely result in time behind bars. It’s not funny watching someone drive a car into a pool. It’s not funny watching the police show up to stop a riot that has broken out in the middle of suburbia. And it’s certainly not funny when one of them hands a baby a small bottle of alcohol. It’s just kind of troubling. It’s exclusion of a story just makes the movie so much worse because without the laughs coming, it has nothing to fall back on. It’s not funny, but it’s also not dramatic, sweet, charming or interesting. It’s just there, like it or not.

In keeping with the recent trend, Project X is a found footage movie (of sorts) and everything you see is captured by a character in the movie walking around with a camera. Aside from a couple of switches where the onscreen action switches to footage captured on someone’s camera phone, most changes in perspective break the established rule of one character documenting everything. Angles and cuts that wouldn’t be possible with a single camera set-up are prominently on display here. Furthermore, the use of shaky cam is nauseating, to the point where I almost had to leave the theater to go heave. Such qualms could be overlooked (yes, even the nausea) if the film provided laughs, but it doesn’t. Project X is immature, stupid, loud and unworthy of your time

Project X receives 0.5/5