Latest Reviews

Entries in Todd Phillips (4)

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
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

Tuesday
May242011

The Hangover Part II

There’s nothing wrong with a sequel sticking to its predecessor’s formula. Besides, if the first movie was popular, then it had to have done something correctly. Still, sequels should take the foundation of the original and build upon it, making it better. You have to be careful, though, because there’s a fine line between doing that and simply rehashing. To say a movie is “a rehash” is a movie critic cliché, but never has the word been more appropriate than with The Hangover Part II. Years from now, when critics are bashing a worthless sequel that does nothing but replay out the events of the original again, they’ll refer to this movie and justifiably so. So I guess the question is should you see it? You already have.

In the original film, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up with memory loss, unable to recall the night before. In the sequel, Phil, Stu and Alan wake up with memory loss, unable to recall the night before. Only this time, Stu is the one getting married, not Doug (Justin Bartha). Oh, and they’re in Thailand. Totally different.

The Hangover Part II, quite literally, is The Hangover repackaged in a different area and with a few new faces. It begins like the first movie, with Phil explaining that they won’t be able to make it back for the wedding, and then it proceeds forward with the guys trying to find clues as to the whereabouts of their lost friend, this time a guy named Teddy (Mason Lee). It follows the exact same path as the original film, straight down to the comedic situations the trio finds itself in, only with slight differences. When they wake up, they find a monkey in the room rather than a tiger. Stu now has a face tattoo rather a missing tooth. When they think they’ve found the missing person, it turns out to be someone else. It even goes so far as to recite at least half a dozen jokes from the original film verbatim. If it’s possible for a franchise sequel to inadvertently remake the original, The Hangover Part II has done it.

Considering that this movie has almost the exact same runtime as the first, I’m considering conducting an experiment to see if they match up. The two films are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised if they both hit the same narrative beats at the same time. Still, this beyond lazy approach to storytelling would be okay if the film produced constant laughs, but it doesn’t. That’s not to say it doesn’t have some good jokes; they were just funnier the first time I heard them two years ago. Because of its recurring, well, everything, The Hangover Part II comes off like a smug prank, one that is aiming to see just how much money it can steal from movie going patrons by showing the same thing.

There is nearly nothing in this vapid slapdash of a film worth noting. Its screenplay, when not a copy and paste job, fails even on the most basic levels. In their first adventure, the clues to Doug’s whereabouts came from clever writing that gave them just enough information to keep them moving forward. Here they come from arbitrary means. After arriving at a Buddhist monastery with nowhere left to go, I kid you not, Alan meditates, has a vision and discovers their next destination. It was like the writers couldn’t figure out how to credibly move the guys from place to place, so they deemed it unnecessary and simply forgot about it.

It’s rare to see such a large drop in quality from film to film in a franchise. While some are certainly better than others, a sequel that fails to live up to the excellent original is usually still pretty good, but that certainly isn’t the case this time. The Hangover made my best of the year list back in 2009, but its sequel is dangerously close to becoming one of this year’s worst.

The Hangover Part II receives 1.5/5

Friday
Nov052010

Due Date

If you told me a year ago that Todd Phillips, the man behind Old School and the underrated Road Trip, would follow up the funniest movie of last year, The Hangover (which has become the most successful R rated comedy of all time), with the dud that is Due Date, I would have laughed in your general direction, but that’s precisely what has happened. The Hangover made my best of the year list last year. Due Date most certainly will not.

At its core, Due Date is about two people with clashing personalities embarking on a cross country road trip and running into all kinds of shenanigans along the way. If that premise sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Robert Downey Jr. plays Peter, who is trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles as soon as possible because his wife is only days away from going into labor. But after a chance encounter on an airplane with Ethan, played by Zach Galifianakis, who starts to make passengers uneasy with his usage of words like “bomb” and “terrorist,” he is put on the “no fly” list and is forced to find another way home. Unfortunately, his bags are still on the plane and on their way to California, leaving him with no money or credit cards. Because of this, he reluctantly agrees to carpool with Ethan, who is also heading west.

If the excessive marketing is any indication, Due Date will make a good amount of money at the box office this weekend. You can’t turn a corner without seeing a poster and you can’t turn on the television without seeing a trailer. While I have no doubt it will put people in theater seats, this forceful push will prove to be its bane. It has almost become a cliché to say that every funny part is in the trailer, but never before has that sentiment been truer than with Due Date. I don’t exaggerate when I say that every single scene in the movie, other than the very last couple, is represented in the TV spots and theatrical trailers.

So the conundrum here is that there are laughs to be had, but you’ve most likely already had them. I recall nearly busting a gut watching the trailers, but I fell silent during the film. Most of the jokes I knew were coming and the ones I didn’t were so unfunny you could hear a cricket chirp in the theater.

It’s hard to believe that even with this problem the actors couldn’t pull it through. Downey Jr. and Galifianakis have proven to be charismatic and funny in the past, but both are deplorable here, more so due to the way their characters’ personalities were scripturally sculpted rather than any fault of their own. Ethan is so annoying, so prodding, so boorish, that you almost immediately hate him as soon as he shows up onscreen. Peter’s understandable aggravation with Ethan quickly becomes contagious.

I’m sure that’s the point, but at least one half of the equation needs to be likably represented, but Peter doesn’t fare much better. He’s an angry and violent individual who I was hoping would crash and burn before ever making it home, especially after he sucker punches a young kid in the stomach and warns him to stay quiet about it. If that’s how he’s going to act around a troublesome child, perhaps his baby would be better off growing up without a father.

Due Date is not funny. It’s as simple as that. The characters are wretched, the jokes are played out (including one that involves drinking somebody’s remains, a gag done much better in the sixth season of “South Park”) and the premise is tired. Galifianakis and Phillips are currently filming The Hangover 2, so let’s pray this was merely a quick cash grab to help them transition to a film they'll really pour their hearts into.

Due Date receives 2/5