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Laughing to Keep from Puking: A Review of The Hangover Part III Part II

Director: Spike Jonze; Writer: Charlie Kaufman; Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Rashida Jones, Tupac Shakur, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber as “Tyler” the baby 

Just when you expected the bromance to be over, here comes the sequel to the final chapter to America’s favorite road-tripping romp, and it breaks new territory for three-part Hollywood franchises, guy flicks, and—well—studio comedies period. No, it’s not Dumb and Dumbererer or The Naked Gun 2 ½.2, but something much grander: it’s The Hangover Part III Part II.

Who would’ve thunk it? More importantly, who would’ve thunk it like this: Zach Galifianakis’s beard and belly as vehicles for deep meditations on the nature of desire, mortality, and time itself? Probably no one. No one except, that is, the most visionary and demented screenwriters and directors among us.

Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, this second installment of the third installment comes across as a mash-up of Easy Rider, the philosophy of Nietszche, The Three Stooges, and “Ode Upon a Grecian Urn,” and it just may be the Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey of its day. (The tale of how this film got made, with the MacArthur Foundation stepping in to purchase the rights to the franchise and award them to Kaufman in lieu of a Genius Award, is its own saga, which won’t be told here.)

I was particularly reluctant to sit through the three-hour (plus intermission) fourth installment to this series, but only because I’d been so let down before. With the exception of my own real-life forays into drug-abuse, bromance, and road trips to Vegas, I’ve never laughed as hard as I did at the original installment of The Hangover back in 2009. I’d forged a real connection to Alan’s (Galifianakis) non-sequiturs and earnest quest for acceptance, Chow’s (Jeong) small-membered, hyper-stereotyped Asian evil-doings, and the pathos generated by Stu’s (Helms) missing tooth and emasculating marriage.

It was clear back then that The Hangover would spawn at least two soul-crushing sequels, but we were laughing too hard to think about that. By Part III, however, when the gross out humor had become rote and the plots and characters as flimsy as the CGI giraffe in the opening scene, I was ready to ask Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. for a refund plus emotional damages.

But now I’d gladly pay again to see the Jonze/Kaufman sequel. Yes, it’s “scary good,” to borrow a line from the film, which is delivered when the baby, now grown up and played by Justin Bieber, describes his coital skills to Chow. How strange to be touched by Bradley Cooper’s Phil ruminating about how, “every year, it seems, the increasing permanence of memory coincides with the quicksilvery flight of the present through my fingers, unless my fingers are in you, darling, for this moment is timeless and you are my eternity.”

While a line like this might have conceivably appeared in Parts I-III, and while it could have been directed in a way that mimics the optics and beats of comedy, this is serious stuff. It is delivered as a whisper from a nude Cooper to a nude Helms—big spoon to little spoon—during the film’s ecstasy-fueled, flesh-filled “ontological orgy.” (Stu, I should add, retained the breast implants that he wore for the closing credits of Part III.) It’s a beautifully intimate moment that took me back to Last Tango in Paris and Eyes Wide Shut, and the movie only gets deeper from there.

Part III Part II—or, P3P2, as the ads call it—is successful where, in my opinion, Kaufman’s script and direction for Synecdoche, NY faltered. That movie was a constant declaration of its own genius and seriousness, and it had none of the whimsy and human frailty of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Being John Malkovich. I was pleased to see Kaufman work with Jonze again, particularly following Jonze’s mature work on Her.

The plot of Part III Part II is as wild as that of the original, but not as obscenely so as the plots of the other sequels. Bieber’s Tyler, who grew up thinking that his father was Stu, is getting married, and his buddies plan a trip to Vegas for his bachelor party. In a twist on the original, the buddies, who figure little into the movie, are kidnapped by an elderly and vengeful Chow, who has become a wealthy producer of legal Vegas entertainments like concerts by Lady Gaga (who resides like an aging Elvis in his hotel) and the dancing, rapping hologram of Tupac Shakur. Chow makes even more money with less than legal entertainments, including pimping out Tupac’s hologram for bachelorette parties and private liaisons, underground gladiatorial matches between the penniless Mike Tyson and his menagerie of exotic pets, and some particularly gruesome performances by and upon the person of Lady Gaga.

All of these characters (and holograms) will figure more deeply into the movie when Tyler, in a twist, calls upon his fiancee, Rashida Jones as Justine, for help. Justine then contacts Tyler’s mother (Heather Graham), who gets in touch with Stu to re-form the Wolfpack and help her son and his friends. As you’d expect, life has been good to the guys from the Wolfpack, though it has taken them in different directions, and a subplot involves “getting the gang back together.” Much of the fun comes from the spiritual, career, and personal turns in the members of the Wolfpack’s lives, which I won’t ruin here except to say that Stu has become a major cultural figure—a Howard Hughes or William Randolph Hearst-type recluse hidden away at a compound in the California hills. And then there’s the exploits of the multi-gendered, bi-generational Wolfpack in Sin City.

If you have the good fortune to see the film at one of several landmark theaters in the country, you’ll be treated to a holographic experience that I won’t ruin except to say that it breaks the fourth wall—or is it the fifth and sixth wall?—and will leave you wondering whether Tupac is, indeed, still alive. It begins with a Between Two Ferns-style sit-down between the Shakur hologram and Galifianakis that covers the nature of corporeal life, the afterlife, and whether reality is more a stage or a hologram, and it will leave many in the audience saying, “I see dead people.” (We wonder how this affected Jones, whose real-life sister had been Shakur’s paramour.)

By now, the last thing you’re wondering is “Does the old Wolfpack rescue the Bieber Wolfpack?” The answer to that is more complicated than you might think. Suffice it to say that Warner Bros. retains the rights to all future creative use of The Hangover and that they are rumored to have contracted Phillips and Galifianakis for another movie to be released in 2016. The soothsayers among us will point to a line in the film in which Alan comments on the possibility of another adventure. “Part III Part II Part II?” he asks the audience and his friends. Do I cheer or groan?

Later, there’s another meta-commentary when Chow holds a palmful of micro-SD cards, the 3.5-inch floppy disks of the future, which supposedly contain the cellphone-recorded footage of the Wolfpack’s pursuits between 2009 and 2013. They can’t play these cards in the 2025 of the movie. “The format’s obsolete, boys. You can’t just convert between the past and the present. We have to make our own memories now. Live, boys, live, and take your experiences to your grave.”