If I said to you, “I’m going to give you $100 million to make a sequel to The Hangover.” What would you do? How would you make it? What would you want the story to be?
Bare in mind the original was the 6th highest grossing film of 2009. It remains the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time, beating out Beverly Hills Cop‘s 25-year record. It is the 3rd highest grossing R-rate film ever.
When you take the time to really consider it, it’s a ridiculous request. The Hangover was a smash success in no small part because of its novelty premise and extreme, frat-style circumstances. There have been other movies like it, but I can’t recall a single one that embraced the grittiness of the party lifestyle to such a degree. It was a little like lightning in a bottle.
Not to mention the hurdle you have to leap to make this thing profitable. The first film grossed $460 million world-wide, but when movies get big profits, they don’t all go to the studio. The numbers vary from country to country, but American producers generally pull down half or less of their films earnings while the rest goes to local theaters and entities.
As it turns out, both sequels got $100 million budgets–the new math of the film industry. This is part of the reason Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predict Hollywood will become financially unstable. While we should take it with a grain of salt, given these guys gave us the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones 4, there is some truth to the idea that budgets north of $100 million risk huge loses if they aren’t a blowout.
In the case of The Hangover: Part II, $460 million made the first film a critical success and while the third was a box office bomb at $350 million. I’m not really here to talk about how movies make more money than they should, like when a crappy sequel follows a modern success, tricking audiences into shelling out millions, or how ridiculous it is to give a comedy film that big a budget.
No, I’m here because I really want to talk about what happened to The Hangover franchise. If you’ve seen the sequels you know that director Todd Phillips opted to replace the inherent humor of the story with dark moral lessons.
Particularly in the third film, where more than 4 characters are killed. The movie’s format, which has situations that could have been filmed for humor, but feel much more like plot points from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Imagine this scene:
Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis’ characters walk quietly into the presidential suite from the balcony where Leslie Chow is hosting an all-night hookers and blow party. Lights strobe, making it difficult to see. Half naked women are observed in the corners of the room, wandering past marble columns, eyes glazed. Cooper holds a syringe in his right hand while Zach nervously grabs his upper arm. Black Sabbath’s N.I.B. is playing loud enough to make speech difficult. Both characters give each other an uncomfortable look before walking down a darkened hallway.
From the shadows, Ken Jeong’s Chow kicks the syringe out of Coopers hand and draws a gun. Cooper grabs his arm and slams him against the wall, causing the weapon to fire. Chips explode from the ceiling as Galifianakis ducks in fear. Cooper slams Jeong against the wall once, twice and three times to knock the gun away, but is stunned when Jeong headbutts him and runs into the shadows.
This isn’t a film-noir fan fiction I wrote. This is actually in the movie. What the hell? Cooper and Galifianakis end up chasing Chow to a casino sex dungeon full of stolen gold, scared women and cocaine.
I should probably take this moment to say I actually like The Hangover: Part Three. It’s really grown on me since I first saw it for none of the reasons that I liked the first movie. I enjoy the dark, gritty story and I’d like to think there’s a reason the director chose to make it this way.
At first I was perplexed. Gone is the idea that these characters have to piece together their shenanigans from a forgotten night. John Goodman’s Miller kidnaps Doug and says he’ll shoot him in the face if the wolf pack doesn’t bring Chow in three days. That’s quite a departure from “We need to find Doug in time for his wedding.”
With almost no consideration to The Hangover: Part Two, which I have trouble remembering, I actually think this is kind of an interesting choice. I’ve always viewed The Hangover as a kind of a frat boy turned 30-something film. It’s basically about a bunch of guys that live out a pitch perfect weekend of college-esque vacation debauchery: the modern equivalent of a questing adventure.
It is a an example of the ideal type of wild night that we envision. Things got a little dangerous, but it’s was mostly about how completely ridiculous the situations were and, for the main characters, it was fun upon retrospect.
If that first movie was a kind of avatar for the perfect out of control experience, The Hangover: Part Three feels more like a metaphor for all the bad consequences that come from partying too hard. People that do bad things with bad actors long enough find themselves trapped in a world they only want out of.
And I argue that is where the wolf pack finds themselves. This final film is a kind of hangover from their first movie. Zach Galifianakis is the character through which we finally see them let go of the crazy in exchange for a more conventional happiness. Chow’s somber farewell is a striking counter; a man who’s embraced a terminal madness for fun sake.
I can’t say that The Hangover: Part Three is a good film on its technical grounds. It falls flat whenever it goes for funny and the stories outrageous premise doesn’t fit the darker tone. In spite of all of that, it was the more interesting choice.