MOTW: Will "The Hangover Part III" Live Up to Expectations?

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
May 20th, 2013

MOTW: Will "The Hangover Part III" Live Up to Expectations?

In Hollywood, it's a smart director who plays to his strengths. Martin Scorsese spent twenty-five years making some of the best gangster movies that have ever been committed to celluloid. Steven Spielberg's best movies have all been about pitiful, inadequate humans running for their lives away from giant predators. Quentin Tarantino scars the human heart with unthinkable violence and delightful pop culture dialogue.

Todd Phillips makes movies about road trips. In fact, Phillips is responsible for not just the first two installments of "The Hangover," but actually cut his teeth on "Road Trip," which was a lighthearted comedy released in 2000 that revolved around-wait for it-a group of friends on a road trip. The first "Hangover" film was released in 2009 and made a lot of money, in addition to reaping critical praise like sheaves of wheat. So of course, there was a sequel in 2011. This one was far less popular with the critics, but still proved having a bunch of buddies get wasted and go on a spree-in Thailand this time-while formulaic, was at least a winning formula, and the public was hungry for more.

Throughout his career, director Todd Phillips has shown a remarkable gift for taking the pieces he's handed and assembling them into a far greater whole. His knack for spotting the exact joke that will be funny and knowing in whose mouth it will be funniest is the major part of what has held together all his past films, providing a powerful binding agent between the sometimes-prickly personalities a director has to manage on the set of any movie.

This is a major theme of Phillips' entire career, and audiences may fairly expect to be treated to more of the Maestro's magic in "The Hangover Part III." The Wolf Pack is back, as is Mr. Chow and the imperishable Mike Tyson and Heather Graham. In the hands of another director-any other director-this would be a recipe for total failure during the opening weekend as audience members chew through their own legs to escape. In the hands of Todd Phillips, however, this exact setup has worked in the past. Indeed, it has worked before with this very cast and crew. The previous two movies had the same plot, and yet both were highly successful. Mere repetition of the basic ingredients isn't a bad thing, of course. Both chocolate cake and apple pie contain flour, sugar, and eggs, but one is not merely a copy of the other. Nor is a baker who makes first one, then the other, lapsing into self-plagiarism or "totally out of ideas." In the hands of a director who knows where he is and what it is, exactly, the audience has paid to see, the reuse of plot elements, characters and even settings-Las Vegas appears in "The Hangover Part III," as it did in the first-can be made to sing like a tenor.

That's what's possible, and what might even be likely, given Todd Phillips' track record. The real question for fans of what's now a very successful franchise is whether or not "The Hangover Part III" will live up to expectations. Of course, this question can't be answered all in a gulp since essentially two audiences exist for these types of movies and sequels. The first group will be the larger public. Their expectations will be for what's billed as essentially a continuation of the first two films, with the promise it will bring the trilogy to what Todd Phillips called "a fitting end." Beyond that, audiences will probably expect "The Hangover Part III" to make them laugh, eat popcorn, and drive home after in a good mood. Delivering on this should be easy. Indeed, Phillips and his cast should manage to live up to the promises of the trailers and teaser campaigns with ease.

What critics will think, however, is a different story. The winds of professional criticism are fickle, and while they blew very favorably for "The Hangover," they turned quickly and unforgivingly when "The Hangover Part II" was revealed to actually be a sequel. Despite the warm welcome accorded the second film at the box office, critics ranged from generally less than enthusiastic to flat-out negative. What they wrote might have been colored by their expectations going in, but it's possible the winds will switch again, and "The Hangover Part III" will be-not hailed, exactly-but at least appreciated by the professional reviewers as all three films have been and will be appreciated by their audiences.