Flickchart Road Trip: Nevada
Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
You want me to go to Las Vegas. I want me to go to Las Vegas.
My sense of adventure, though, wants me to experience something I haven’t experienced before. I’ve been to Vegas, like, 12 times. I spent a hazy afternoon in Reno, and even stayed overnight once in the little town of Elko.
Where I haven’t yet been, though, is Lake Tahoe. So I decided to point my car in that direction, even though I’d again (after Colorado) be teased by getting to a known skiing hotspot just a few weeks too early.
It’s such a vacation destination, though, that I couldn’t help but do something totally vacation-y. So after looking longingly around this cute, alpine-influenced area, and imagining how much cuter it might looked capped in snow, I decided on an activity I might have chosen to relax my muscles after a particularly strenuous day on the slopes.
That’s right, I went to the spa.
The Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village, to be exact. Because it made good logistical sense, I treated myself to a night at the Hyatt Regency as well.
I lounged in the eucalyptus steam room. I baked in the dry cedar sauna. I, um, relaxed in the relaxation lounge. I had an hour-long full body massage. Because I equate going to the spa with having cucumbers rested on my eyelids — not because I’ve ever done that, but because I’ve seen it in the movies — I made sure to sign up for something that would involve that as well. I even got a gentleman’s manicure, just because. I considered the pedicure, but I have highly unfortunate toenails that are probably beyond the scope of the good people of the Stillwater Spa.
After that: gambling. I can’t go through Nevada without losing a couple twenties at a casino. (“A couple” turned out to be four, if you’re keeping track.)
Gambling seems to be about the only thing the protagonists of my Nevada movie haven’t spent much time doing in Vegas. The so-called Wolfpack — I can’t write “Wolfpack” without prefacing it with “so-called” — is back, and back in Las Vegas, in The Hangover Part III. The final film in Todd Phillips‘ trilogy was released only this past May, making it my second 2013 film after The Great Gatsby back in New York. Although there’s some evidence to suggest that recent films do well on Flickchart, as part of a bump in enthusiasm following the film’s initial release, Flickcharters aren’t having any of the third Hangover movie, ranking it only #14747 globally.
What it’s about
Alan Garner (Zack Galifianakis) is up to his old ways, terrorizing the world through his stupidity, when he tries to drive a giraffe back to the zoo on a freeway with too many low overpasses. The resulting fracas gives his loving father, Sid (Jeffrey Tambor), a heart attack, killing him. Alan’s friends and family decide that enough is enough and stage an intervention, the result of which is that Alan agrees to go to an institution that can better meet his needs as long as his brother-in-law Doug (Justin Bartha) and Doug’s friends Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) will accompany him. Understandably wary after interludes with Alan in Las Vegas and Bangkok nearly ruined their lives, the trio reluctantly agree in an effort to get Alan back on his meds. On the drive to the institution, though, the foursome are waylaid by a gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), who wants them for their connection to international criminal/debauched party animal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). Marshall tells Stu, Phil and Alan that he’ll kill Doug in three days’ time if they fail to locate the slippery prison escapee Chow, who has reached out to Alan and asked him to meet in Tijuana.
How it uses the state
It doesn’t at all for the first 50 minutes of the film. In fact, I had a momentary sinking feeling, wondering if I had somehow been mistaken that this movie was even set in Las Vegas. Then the action finally relocates, using Caesar’s Palace most prominently.
What it’s up against
Before we get to my thoughts on the film, let’s duel it against five other Nevada movies I’ve already seen, shall we? (It would be all too easy to just choose five movies set in Las Vegas, but as a sign of fairness to the rest of the state, I’m not going to do that.) As you know if you’ve ever added a film to Flickchart using the “By Title” feature, the new movie goes up first against the movie in the exact middle of your rankings. The outcome of that duel determines whether it faces the film at the 75th percentile or the 25th percentile, and so on, until it reaches its exact right place. With five movies, that means at least two and as many as three duels. Here are the films The Hangover Part III will battle:
1) Swingers (1996, Doug Liman). My Flickchart: #215/3582. Global: #701. When I have so many movies that take place entirely in Las Vegas to choose from, why select one that spends less than 15 minutes there? Three words: “Vegas, baby, Vegas.” (Plus, I’ll have way too many California movies to choose from, and this allows one more to squeeze in.) Doug Liman’s classic Swingers encapsulates my Las Vegas experience, including the soul-crushing drive from LA, the reckless overbetting on your first hand of the night, the greeting the sunrise with a couple of cocktail waitresses in the back of their mobile home. Okay, only the first of those things ever happened to me, but as a guy who made the pilgrimage to Vegas for no fewer than six bachelor parties, five of which involved that epic car ride (four-plus hours that can turn into eight when the traffic is bad, and seem longer because you’re so damn excited to get there), Swingers nails the experience. Oh, and the rest of the way this movie captures life as an early twentysomething in Los Angeles is spot on, too.
2) The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman). My Flickchart: #648/3582. Global: #480. We go back to before Las Vegas even existed for my second Nevada movie. The Ox-Bow Incident is not only a classic western, but a classic cautionary tale against mob mentality. The residents of the town of Bridger’s Wells, Nevada, form a posse when they’re told that a rancher named Larry Kinkaid has been killed in the theft of his cattle, and the suspected rustlers are just outside town. The film’s core debate becomes whether to lynch them on the spot or bring them back into town to stand trial, and Henry Fonda finds himself in a spot arguing reason that would become familiar to him, as it’s similar to his role in 12 Angry Men 14 years later. The great cast also includes Harry Morgan and Anthony Quinn, and the film received a nomination for best picture.
3) Waking Up in Reno (2002, Jordan Brady). My Flickchart: #1570/3582. Global: #24942. Nevada’s second most famous gambling destination deserves some love, doesn’t it? I’m actually a big fan of giving love to this movie in particular, which I have somehow managed to see three times, and not only because two of its four stars are now deceased. (R.I.P., Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson.) A slight little road trip comedy that sat on Miramax’ shelves for several years before finally being dumped in theaters, Waking Up in Reno is one of those movies that just leaves a smile on your face — even though there’s some real dysfunction and pain amidst the two couples who travel from Little Rock to Reno for a monster-truck rally, with stops along the way. The movie’s got its heart in the right place, even when the characters are doing the wrong things, and has a happy-ish ending that feels earned. Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron are the other two of the four.
4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam). My Flickchart: #2913/3582. Global: #594. It pains me to slap down a movie by a director who has made some films I truly cherish (Terry Gilliam), adapting a book from a writer I love (Hunter S. Thompson), but the fact is that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just did not work for me. Thompson’s writing, dubbed gonzo journalism for a reason, does lend itself to the types of visual flourishes and outlandish character behaviors we see here, and certain hallucinatory passages (the story is about two guys on a drug-fueled trip to a police convention in Vegas, one of them Thompson himself) do work quite effectively. Overall, though, the film quickly starts drowning in its own tediousness — literally, as it hits its nadir with Benicio del Toro splashing around in a bathtub, screaming nonsense. Johnny Depp is at his quirkiest as Thompson, which is saying a lot for Depp.
5) Showgirls (1995, Paul Verhoeven). My Flickchart: #3399/3582. Global: #5904. Showgirls is in its own special category of bad, isn’t it? Everyone agrees that the movie is terrible, especially critics, but it’s also got a large group of fans who watch it ironically, turning it into something of a surprise hit — and not just for people who wanted to see Saved by the Bell‘s Elizabeth Berkley disrobe. By any ordinary method of measuring quality, though, Showgirls is as bad as it gets. The screenplay for which legendary douchebag Joe Eszterhas was rewarded $2 million is scream-out-loud awful, and the gymnastic sex between Berkley and Kyle McLachlan in a swimming pool is a howler as well. Despite a recent trend toward reconsidering this story of a street-smart girl rising from stripper to showgirl in Las Vegas as a serious satire, most people know in their heart of hearts that Showgirls is just a tawdry turd.
First duel: The Hangover Part III vs. Waking Up in Reno. Go back to sleep, Hangover. Waking Up in Reno wins.
Second duel: The Hangover Part III vs. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’ve got strong loathing indeed for one of these two movies. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas wins.
Third duel: The Hangover Part III vs. Showgirls. Even Showgirls takes the duel. Even Showgirls. Showgirls wins.
The Hangover Part III finishes sixth out of the six movies.
I popped in The Hangover Part III with the semi-comfort of knowing that however bad it might be, it certainly couldn’t be any worse than the dreadful Hangover Part II.
I was right — but only barely.
Neither film generates a single laugh between them, but the third movie in the trilogy is notable for not even seeming to try to generate laughs. The Hangover Part III undergoes an odd tonal shift from comedy of the absurd to, I would say, I don’t know, thriller with a comic bite? That could be because the third in the series is the first to have any real body count, and I’m not just talking about the chickens, the dogs, and the headless giraffe who all go to a better place. It’s hard to say what’s worse — playing the decapitation of a giraffe for a laugh (and failing utterly), or having real people die human deaths in non-comedic ways. Each is a pretty far cry from the original purpose of these movies.
One thing I will say for this movie is that it somewhat, sort of redeems Zach Galifianakis’ Alan. I’m wondering if Galifianakis had a talk with the writers (Craig Mazin and director Todd Phillips) and told them to tone Alan down. They complied — eventually. Early on, though, I was shaking my head, wondering if Alan may just be the most annoying character in the history of movies, at least in terms of awful characters you are sort of supposed to like. After the first ten minutes, however, he bears little direct responsibility for many of the things that go wrong. The Hangover Part III is apparently damned if it does or damned if it doesn’t, because even though I thought this was what I wanted, Alan being basically sidelined makes the movie considerably less interesting. I didn’t want him to continue with the kind of unforgivable shenanigans that got the so-called Wolfpack into so much trouble in the first two movies, because no single movie character should be responsible for so much toxic idiocy. Without that large dose of Alan’s extremely irritating vamping, however, it underscored how truly boring the other two (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) really are. To say nothing of how boring Justin Bartha’s Doug must be, as he is once again segregated from the rest of the group. More than anyone else, Bartha must be breathing a sigh of relief that this series is finally over, and he can concentrate on movies that don’t consider him such a charisma vacuum that they have to concoct new ways to get him off screen.
Ken Jeong’s Leslie Chow compensates for Alan’s relative calm by being even more obnoxious than he’s been before. His shtick wore thin before the end of the first movie, and by now it’s far worse as it possesses that extra violent edge that the whole movie brings to the table. An unfunny comedy that acts like a half-baked thriller, The Hangover Part III consistently fails to bring its would-be set pieces to satisfying conclusions, proving just how tired everyone involved with this project is. Permanently hung over, you might say.