Going into this weekend, all eyes were on the duel between hotly anticipated sequels, The Hangover Part III and Fast & Furious 6, for box office supremacy. Turns out, it wasn't a close race at all. Fast 6 easily won the long weekend with $122 million in the bank, compared to Hangover's $60+ million (which included Thursday). Now, while box office is not always the most reliable indicator of a picture's quality. In this case, it is dead-on accurate, and speaks volumes.
Most movie series that are in their 6th iteration are coasting on fumes. Not Fast & Furious. It's more popular now than ever before, which is a nice development because, get this, the movies are actually good. 2011's Fast Five definitely changed the tide, taking the movies out of the gearhead, underground race scene, and making them more of a heist movie, featuring returning characters from each prior film and a developing sense of mythology.
So, how is Fast 6? Does it live up to all the hype generated by that crazy Super Bowl trailer? In a word, yes. Justin Lin is back in the director's chair, and he really ramps things up to 11 here. The action sequences are huge and thrilling and dumb. The big three (nighttime chase, tank, and airplane) are worth the $10 ticket price alone. Lin and his cast never take the movie too seriously, and there are plenty of laughs to be had - almost all intentional. I love Dwayne Johnson's out-of-control machismo as Hobbs, and Tyrese adds a lot of levity, cracking non-stop jokes on the sidelines.
The villain this time is Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), and even though I've seen the movie twice, I have no clue what he's doing or the nature of his master plan. He is vaguely, generically villainous, which is good enough I guess. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) returns, despite the fact that she died in Part 4, but they quickly explain that away. Story is not the movie's strong suit, but it more than compensates for that in the action scenes and character beats that reward fans who've stuck with the series since 2001. If there's a major problem with Fast 6, it's the fact that it does not reach the heights of Fast Five. Hard to imagine any movie in the series besting the climax of 5, where an 800-pound vault is pulled by two cars all across Rio, destroying everything in its wake.
But, Fast 6 does have one major trick up its sleeve: an end credits stinger that ingeniously sets up the villain in Part 7, while simultaneously trying in the events of Tokyo Drift (the third film in the series, and the one least connected to all the others). It leaves the audience pumped and ready for more. I don't see the Fast & Furious franchise dying anytime soon.
The same can't be said for The Hangover Part III. I hated Part II, as I suspect most of you did. I was willing to give the series another chance though because director Todd Phillips and the cast assured us that they would not repeat the same formula, and give us something new with these characters. Unfortunately, though Part III gets rid of the recycled story elements, it doesn't really give audiences something interesting in their place. The movie is dark and unfunny for long stretches of time. I'd argue that apart from the first 20 minutes (most of which is already spoiled in the preview), there aren't any laughs. And, I'm not so sure Phillips was even going for funny.
Part III looks great, better than most comedies in fact. It's a well-shot movie. But in going for a gritty action comedy vibe, the laughs are all but abandoned. Most of the plot involves the Wolfpack tracking down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) in order to save their buddy, Doug, who's been kidnapped. A little bit of Chow goes a long way, and there's just too much of him here. Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms sleepwalk through their roles, never really committing. The story is lazy and dumb.
This should have been way more wild and crazy. The one time the movie achieves a level of insane comedy is during the end credits. Like Fast 6, there's a scene mid-credits that sends the audience into a tizzy. Here, it's another hangover sequence, this time featuring an Ed Helms sight gag that easily outdoes the missing tooth and face tattoo from the first two movies. But, by the time it comes, it's too little too late. You are done with these characters and this movie series. Whatever goodwill the first Hangover created is long gone. Part III is slightly better than Part II, but that's really not saying much.
Fast & Furious 6 (*** out of 5)
The Hangover Part III (** out of 5)