Hung Over: The Tragic Path of a Comedy “Trilogy”

Let’s face it. We live in a world that loves to squeeze as much success out of something good until that something good get’s turned into something lifeless and plain. The Hangover was a film with a modest budget and no expectations that turned into a monster of a hit, banking in at the box office with almost $280 million domestically. It was a film that was unexpectedly heartfelt and introduced the world to characters who were very easy to like, even if they were ultimately hopeless (and possible somewhat deplorable). It was a film that transformed Zack Galifianakis into a household name (even if no-one really seems to know how to pronounce it) and a film that helped Bradley Cooper burst into stardom. The first installment of the Hangover franchise seemed to know exactly when to hit the right beats and when to stop before things got too out of hand.

The Hangover

Then came the sequel. The phrase “it’s all downhill from here” could not be more appropriately applied to what happened after The Hangover because The Hangover Part II, while achieving box-office success, ended up being a disaster of a filmgoing experience, and was one of the most personally insulting attempts at a sequel I have ever tried to witness. Part II was a film that took everything (and I mean everything) that was charming and funny about the first installment and recycled it with an astounding amount of laziness, and added a darker, more serious tone. While many less experienced filmgoers probably enjoyed the 2nd Hangover film (understandably so, since it does at least have humor in it) I found it to be a total money grab that added more of the weaknesses (cough… Ken Jeong… cough, cough) of the first film while recycling the exact same plot and beats.

Now, with the most recent Hangover release, and the final installment of a trilogy (I’ll believe that after I’m dead) the series has reached near rock bottom. While I give some credit to the third movie for trying something different than just recycling the same plot with the same jokes, I’m going to take all of that credit right back due to the lack of anything funny or entertaining about this “final” chapter of the “wolf pack”. From the opening sequence I immediately felt regret. I regretted buying a ticket to a film that was even more of a money grab than it’s predecessor. I regretted that I was obviously going to experience a film that perhaps no one actually cared about making. And, at the end, I regretted experiencing a movie as joyless and empty as The Hangover Part III. 

The Hangover

So what exactly went wrong with a series that showed so much promise at the beginning? I could point to a few things. One of my personal theories is that much of the time sequels give the audience more of something that had an initial positive reaction. For instance, I imagine one of the more popular aspects of the first Hangover films was the Mr. Chow character played by Ken Jeong. Looking back at the first film recently, that character was one of the bigger weaknesses of the film and one of the characters that doesn’t work as well as most seem to think (as I was watching, I imagined how much better the movie would have been if the audience would have just been left wondering about the naked guy that jumped out of the trunk of a car instead of expanding on the character). As the series progressed (fell apart) Ken Jeong played a more pivotal role and Mr. Chow became a tired and played out persona.

While the Mr. Chow issue is one that bothers me greatly as it pertains to the history of the Hangover trilogy, that character cannot get the sole blame for bringing the funny out of the series. I’ve already mentioned the laziness that oozed out of the screen in the 2nd film, and the joylessness of the 3rd attempt.

The real problem with the path of The Hangover is the fact that there should never have been a sequel in the first place. A trilogy about the characters at hand was unnecessary and ill-conceived. The creators didn’t really have anything more to do for these people; anywhere to go with them. The first movie gave an audience everything that was needed from Phil, Stu & Alan. It took risks and went all out in providing a genuinely funny experience. Unfortunately, the creators seemed to have the same experience the three main characters had and forgot everything about how they made that genuine feeling of extreme hilarity and decided to give another couple of tries to repeat the success. Let’s hope with this last installment, relatively struggling at the box-office, is indeed the last time we see Mr. Chow and company.

…If only there were some sort of roofie that could be used to make everyone forget about those last two efforts. 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. I loved the first movie, but I decided to avoid the sequels. Zach Galifianakis is a great comedian and Bradley Cooper is a great actor, but not even they looked that funny in the trailers.

    • Kevin Licht

      Probably a good choice to avoid the sequels. Unfortunately I’m a sucker who feels like I have to see just about anything that comes out.

  2. Lion's Dean

    The second movie killed the buzz for me. No point of paying for something a third time after the disaster of the second. Shame though. I’m kind of glad to hear that at least the director tried something new here.

  3. Kahlia Sankey

    I totally agree with this review, the first movie was funny and kind of clever whereas the second films were typical of the recycling Hollywood does when something works out. Mr Chow is one of those genius in small doses characters and I felt the same way about his character, Chang in Community when they gave him more screen time.

    • Kevin Licht

      Maybe it’s something that’s inherent in Ken Jeong. I really liked him in Knocked Up and Role Models but he’s a performer who tends to get on my nerves if he stays on screen for too long.

  4. Andrew Couzens

    This really is the problem when a studio decides to make a franchise out of something that was never meant to be so. Some IPs are built with the franchise in mind. The Hangover was not one of these.

  5. let’s be direct, 2 and 3 sucked!

  6. J. Bryan Jones

    It would be interesting to compare follow up movies to horrible sequels to statistically show that horrible work equals next movie failure.

    • Kevin Licht

      I agree. It would be something to look into; maybe taking a look at whether there is a certain genre that feels the hit a little bit more severely. Off the top of my head I feel like comedies are more susceptible to failing with follow-ups because they tend to really go for repeated jokes (i.e. Austin Powers, American Pie, etc.) , while the horror genre is probably the least affected because for some reason people seem to really enjoy blood, guts, and murder.

      In the Hangover’s case, the third entry is neither a critical or box office success.

  7. Tom Beasley

    The first film worked because the characters were just crazy enough. By the time the sequel came around, every character had become inexplicably horrendous. Alan, especially, is suddenly an enormously nasty piece of work, rather than a charming imbecile.

  8. Jemma Baddock

    I completely agree with you when you say the first sequel (Hangover 2) was made with complete laziness. It basically took the first movie and copied and pasted the exact script, and paraphrased a few things here and there. But, I really did enjoy part 3. Perhaps because my standards were not high at all, thanks to part 2, but it was a great surprise to see that they changed the plot line quite a bit, and made the main focus to be on Lesley chow (this character makes the movie … so hilarious!)

  9. Michelle Webb

    Amen! Hollywood, stop before you wreck it. Or not, that’s fine.

    This is a great read Licht.

  10. Danielle R Pearce

    This was such a pleasure to read as you are pretty much reinforcing everything that I thought about the film – even down to characterization of Alan! It would have been fantastic for the film to stay well remembered, rather than try to exploit audiences with the sequels.

  11. Marcus Dean

    I don’t know if Hollywood will ever consistently realise and understand what audiences want from sequels, the second Hangover wasn’t worth watching because it had the exact same formula but suffered from us seeing it all before. But when it made the money it did, it gave them the chance to do something right, but I think what audiences were saying must of went to their heads, because it ended up being just as hard to watch with little of the same DNA.

  12. The purpose of the film series changed. The Hangover was about some bros that have fun and hijinks together and looked believable. There was nothing analytical or profound about it but it was never meant to be. And it was broadly realistic. The purpose was to have fun. The last two were about milking a cash cow for all that it was worth; thus you clearly noticed a change of ethos. In many was the Beverly Hills Cop series plotted a similar trajectory to this. Hence your revulsion.

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