Clint takes a look at two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.
Fast & Furious 6 / dir. Justin Lin / Universal Pictures
It’s a rare thing when a long-running franchise can reinvent itself for the better – oftentimes, series peter out given enough installments until they become shadows of their former selves. With the help of director Justin Lin, however, the Fast & Furious franchise has transformed itself from a stylish (if brain-dead) series of mediocre-to-terrible car culture movies into the new Ocean’s 11. Starting with the tepid-but-philosophical Tokyo Drift, Lin has set out to create a mythology out of the stock car geniuses/career criminals which comprise these film’s protagonists, with a central theme of family and unity running throughout each entry in the series. The fourth film sees the tone shifting gears (har har) into car-based crime movies, with the original cast avenging the death of one of their own (Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty), and the resplendent Fast Five cemented the series’ status as a wonderfully thrilling showcase of every amazing thing you could possibly do with a car, physics be damned.
Suffice to say, if you liked Fast Five, you’ll love Furious 6 (as the film’s title card calls it). Fresh from their successful heist in Rio, our intrepid gang of career criminals split up and settle down with their newfound millions. However, when special agent Hobbs (the always-enchanting Dwayne Johnson) approaches team leader Dom (Vin Diesel, as growly as ever) with photographs of the now-alive Letty, with connections to an evil gang of career criminals he wants them to help him stop, the team (including Paul Walker’s Brian, Tyrese’s Roman and Ludacris’ Tej, among others) gathers once more to crack wise, defy the laws of physics and drive like no one’s ever driven before.
The story is all but secondary to the action, which is no complaint; the MacGuffin they are supposed to keep villain Shaw (Luke Evans) from getting is barely named, the consequences of its capture given little thought. All we care about is that it is a Bad Thing and the Good Guys Must Stop Them. There’s a sense of macho simplicity and earnestness in the spirit of the film that lets you slide past silly things like stakes – if anything, the real ‘story’ of the film is how Letty (a mesmerizing Rodriguez, continuing her career tradition of perpetually wearing black tank tops) rejoins Dom’s ‘family.’ Family is a significant theme in the film, with Dom and Shaw being constantly compared as leaders: Shaw’s team is more ruthless and efficient, but Dom’s team has the advantage of having a leader who loves them like family. There’s very little of the typical inter-team conflict in this film, which is purposeful – we’re meant to see the warmth all of these people have for each other and share in it. Lin directs the drama just as giddily as the action scenes, every cheeseball soap-opera twist being played full-bore with an audacity I can’t help but admire.
The bread and butter of the Fast series, especially in its new incarnation as car-based action films, are the chases and stunts; they do not disappoint in the slightest. Building on the spectacle of the last one, gorgeous muscle cars and imports buck and weave around endless streets and runways, vehicles are demolished, and the up-close fights are as visceral as they come. Lin continues his status as one of the best action directors working today, as every scene is filmed with a grace and kineticism that makes you forget that the police should have gotten there by now, or that the runway they’re fighting on should have run out minutes ago.
None of this matters; all of this is in service to the action, which makes sense in its own context and whose ridiculousness is absolutely one of its chief virtues. Nowhere else will you see tanks catching up to classic muscle cars, people jumping out of two different cars to catch each other and emerge unscathed, or cars being used as anchors to stop large cargo planes – the world of the Fast & Furious universe basically consists of car-based magicians using their car magic to do anything they need done. All you have to do is add cars and it works – as stupid as that all sounds, it’s tremendously exciting, and engrosses you completely in its world for the two hours and change you are invited to share.
Furious 6 is a relatively progressive movie as well: its patriarch is an Asian-American director, and it stars a largely minority cast, all of whom are uniformly effective, if not excellent (especially Tyrese’s hilarious Roman). The women kick just as much ass as the men, especially Rodriguez, Gal Gadot and Gina Carano’s characters. This is tempered, of course, by Jordana Brewster’s franchise-spanning character being relegated to wife, mother and damsel in distress, but she does get a few licks in by film’s end.
There are only a few things I can complain about this latest installment. For one, Gina Carano’s character arc is a bit disappointing, especially to those who liked her character for the majority of the film. Furthermore, there’s a really mediocre subplot in the middle of the film wherein Paul Walker goes to America to break in and out of prison – the whole enterprise feels redundant and fruitless. It doesn’t give us any new information (just vague pontificating on how dangerous the current film’s villain is) and seems to exist simply to give Paul Walker something to do in the second act. Despite these minor flaws, however, Furious 6 is a wonderful, wonderful ride taken best in a crowded theater so you can take in all the spectacle for yourself. (NOTE: Be sure to pay attention shortly after the credits start for one of the most entertaining sequel stingers I’ve ever seen.)
Clint’s Verdict: Loved It
Drinking Rules for Fast & Furious 6:
1) Drink anytime a car is destroyed
2) Drink whenever someone says the word “code,” “team” or “family”
3) Drink anytime someone talks up how dangerous the villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) is
Finish Your Drink When:
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) says, “You picked the wrong team, bitch!”
The Hangover Part III / dir. Todd Phillips / Warner Bros. Pictures
The Hangover movies are strange beasts. Despite being mediocre-at-best comedies (and not serving as vehicles for star comedians like Adam Sandler), they usually make incredible bank at the box office. I’ve never been a huge fan; while the first is pretty entertaining and self-contained, I absolutely loathed the second one. Apart from its complete aping of not just the concept, but the exact plot structure, of the first Hangover, The Hangover Part II simply added a massive dose of misanthropy to the mix, turning its protagonists into even more terrible people and robbing them of any redemption or comeuppance for their terrible behavior. Not too sound too purse-clutchy, but the movies’ message (as much as there is one) to embrace the dark side within you is mitigated by the sheer horror of what they get up to. Animals are abused, limbs are lost, protagonists are raped, and it’s all reacted to with uproarious laughter as we watch these people suffer.
Now comes The Hangover Part III, a film so misguided and half-hearted I have trouble believing I watched a comedy. Gone is the “we partied hard last night, time to retrace our steps” setup that is the actual concept of the Hangover series – suffice to say there is no hangover in the film – but what director/co-writer Todd Phillips forgot to do is replace it with something funny. Instead, we get a half-baked story wherein maladjusted Alan (Zach Galifinakis, on whom the film leans too heavy for its comedic moments) is taken to rehab by friends Phil, Stu and Doug (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Justin Bartha), only to get sidetracked by Doug being taken hostage by mob boss Marshall (John Goodman) in exchange for their friend, Asian stereotype Chow (the always-irritating Ken Jeong). Now, the search isn’t for their missing friend; the Wolfpack must look for Chow in order to save Doug from getting murdered. Hilarious, right?
From the start, we know we’re in trouble – the film isn’t so much about the Wolfpack anymore, but the story of Alan. Phil and Stu are shoved into the plot by being invited to Alan’s father’s funeral, with very little motivation of their own besides not wanting Doug to be dead. This leaves Cooper and Helms (Helms, especially) notably underused, which is especially weird given that Helms was the focus of Hangover II. I’d be impressed with the series’ direction if the first Hangover was about Cooper, and the trilogy was instead taking these three characters apart to see what they are made of. Since that didn’t happen, though, I can’t credit the series with that kind of anthologizing.
The most bizarre choice to make in this series is the elevation of Chow (a character who started out as an obnoxious two-bit drug dealer in the first) into some kind of criminal mastermind, and the other half of the film’s source of comedy. Of course, it being a Ken Jeong role, the inherent humor in his character is the fact that such a small, ugly, caricatured Asian stereotype is pretending to be such a badass (and succeeding); however, this falls flat, as Jeong’s presence is so grating that you can’t see what Phillips and crew are going for. It’s not really helped by the fact that, in the absence of Galifinakis and Jeong, the film would just be a really tepid crime/kidnapping thriller – as such, the film sort of devolves into SNL-style sketchy antics with their two wacky characters, with little to fill the screentime in between.
There are bright spots, of course; Galifinakis is still an amiable screen presence when he’s not overused, Cooper and Helms get a few choice moments to shine, and Phillips’ direction is assured. You can tell that Phillips relishes these darkly stylized moments – the opening scene in a Bangkok prison stands out – but hasn’t figured out yet that they don’t work well for comedy. Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy brings a surprising amount of warmth to a small but pivotal role as a pawn shop owner/Alan’s love interest – there’s even a sweet asking-out scene at the end that’s nice to watch, for the most part. Unfortunately, the scene simply ends with Alan dropping his pants and hi-laariously mispronouncing the word ‘pornography.’ It’s that kind of badly-paced humor that undercuts what few subtle moments they try for, which is a shame.
On a side note, the original plan to take Alan to rehab is completely forgotten by the time the Chow plot starts and never picked back up again, meaning that Alan won’t ever get better or really take steps to improve himself as a person. Instead, he just shacks up with a similarly unhinged, hilariously unattractive person to spiral downwards in a codependent cycle of insanity. I predict at least three more exotic animals will be killed during the honeymoon.
Frankly, The Hangover Part III’s biggest sin is that it tries to dabble in the genre that its chief competitor this weekend (Fast & Furious 6) is already an expert at – the heist/crime thriller. As a result, it feels like Phillips and crew playing in the big-boy sandbox and not really belonging there. The real tragedy, however, comes at the fact that Fast & Furious 6 is miles away a much better comedy than The Hangover Part III as well. I’d much rather see a film focusing on Tyrese, Ludacris and Sung Kang, for instance, than the mean-spirited antagonism of Phil, Stu and Alan. In short, The Hangover Part III isn’t as openly offensive as Part II, but it’s just incredibly bland.
Clint’s Verdict: Skip It
Rules for The Hangover Part III:
1) Drink anytime a person or animal is murdered
2) Drink whenever Alan (Zach Galifinakis) displays no social grace or critical thinking skills
3) Drink every time the film references the first two Hangover films
Finish Your Drink When:
Chow (Ken Jeong) says, “Toodle-oo, mothafuckas!”
Next week, Clint checks out the latest Will/Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, as well as the dystopian horror film The Purge!