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Summer flicks bring fast and furious hangovers

Friday - 5/24/2013, 7:53am  ET

publicity.jpg
These publicity images show (left) Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker in the upcoming 'Fast & Furious 6,' and (right) Zach Galifianakis in the upcoming 'The Hangover Part III.' (Universal Pictures/Warner Bros./AP)

Fast Cars and Hangovers

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley reviews "The Hangover 3" and "Fast & Furious 6," and previews the Summer Movie Season.

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Jason Fraley, WTOP film critic

WASHINGTON - Well, it happened. I hoped it wouldn't, but it happened.

After a marvelous May, Hollywood has released a pair of stinkers for Memorial Day Weekend, which marks the official start of the Summer Blockbuster Season.

"The Hangover 3" and "Fast and Furious 6" will make tons of money, but these are no more than guilty pleasures.

My advice: if you haven't seen "Iron Man 3," "The Great Gatsby" or "Star Trek: Into Darkness," go check those out this weekend. Or, save your money for an upcoming flick, featured in our 2013 Summer Blockbusters gallery, put together by WTOP Intern Hoai-Tran Bui.

However, if you're in the mood for a fast and furious hangover, here's what you need to know:

"The Hangover Part III"

The first "Hangover" (2009) was a pop culture phenomenon, striking comedy gold with Zach Galifianakis, proving that Bradley Cooper wasn't a fluke in "Wedding Crashers," capturing Ed Helms at the height of "The Office" ("Rit dit dit doo") and providing a stage for Heather Graham and Mike Tyson.

When it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical, it was a more deserving choice than that cure-for-insomnia "Les Miserables" (2012) -- that's right, I said it. Unfortunately, comedies never get their day in the sun. As Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly sang, "No comedians at the Oscars."

I suppose it was only economics that Hollywood would make a pair of "Hangover" sequels, and the problem that plagued "The Hangover 2" is the same problem that plagues "The Hangover 3."

Both movies feature way too much Mr. Chow (Jeong). No doubt it's to capitalize on his hit role on NBC's "Community," but I've always enjoyed his coked-up character better in small doses, like jumping out of the trunk in Part I.

Part III makes it all about Mr. Chow, who steals the gold of a criminal mastermind (John Goodman), who kidnaps Doug (Justin Bartha) as payback, sending the rest of The Wolfpack on a journey to Tijuana and back to Vegas to chase down Chow.

The movie actually has some good laughs in the first 15 minutes when it lets Zach Galifianakis be Zach Galifianakis, creating hilarious interactions with his family and friends. But once the "story" begins, it gets surprisingly unfunny. As Chow sings "Hurt" at a karaoke bar, I felt like Bradley Cooper, who leans in to The Wolfpack and says, "What am I watching?"

Part I was the drunk party where you're having a blast. Part II was later in the night when you start to feel sick. Part III is the morning after when you're wishing you hadn't.

★ 1/2

"Fast and Furious 6"

"Fast and Furious 6" follows the success of "Fast Five" (2011), where Vin Diesel told Paul Walker, "We're gonna do one last job ... and disappear ... forever."

I guess forever means two years.

"Fast Five" worked because it felt like a culmination, bringing the band back together one last time -- Dominic Toretto (Diesel), Brian O'Conner (Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris). Rounding out this all-star team of "Avengers" was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, whom the group affectionately calls "The Samoan Thor."

The Rock has officially transformed from heel to baby-face, from antagonist D.S.S. agent to protagonist bad-ass, if you smell what I'm cooking. Here, he reassembles the crew to track down a criminal (Luke Evans), who has recruited Dom's presumed-dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to help him acquire a deadly weapon.

The plot hinges on the notion that Letty did not die in "Fast and Furious 4," but rather sustained amnesia during her car explosion, leaving her unable to remember her romance with Dom. Director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan not only rip a battle-scar scene from "Lethal Weapon 3," they insult our intelligence by continually bringing back dead characters.

This is the problem I have with endless sequels. Any good story has a beginning, middle and end, but the "Fast and Furious" flicks feel like we're continually in the "middle." If you missed one of the previous films, you can't truly understand each new beginning, and you're guaranteed a lack of closure because no one ever officially dies, once-and-for-all promises are never kept and post-credit sequences tease to the next high-speed adventure.

The audience freaked when Part 6 revealed a new cast member in its post-credit teaser, but it was spoiled for me by the fact that this info was already public knowledge, as "Fast & Furious 7" (2014) was booked before Part 6 was even released.

And so, Part 6 feels like "six of one, half dozen of the other." Hardcore fans will probably get what they're looking for with plenty of collateral-be-damned crashes and funny repartee between Tyrese and Ludacris. But for me, the moments of "wow, did you see that?" are matched by just as many moments of "why do I care?"

"Fast and Furious" is fine if you take it for what it is, but I worry about a generation growing up thinking that "fast and furious" is better than "slow and meticulous." I've met folks who love "Fast Five," which references an "offer you can't refuse," but who find "The Godfather" boring. This is certainly not Coppola's fault; it's our fault for not being more active viewers.

The slow-paced moments when viewers tune out (i.e. "Lincoln") are precisely the times we should become most active as viewers, scanning the image for symbolic clues. We should demand more of ourselves as viewers, and more of our directors to challenge us. There's no time for that when Justin Lin cuts around so fast. To me, that's when I tune out. That's boring.

Thrilling chases and character development aren't mutually exclusive (see "The French Connection"). The "Fast and Furious" franchise should have gone out on top in 2011, when its pop culture power peaked with a controversial gun-trafficking operation baring its name. Now it's like an athlete who hangs around a little too long. The crashes are spectacular, but the series is just spinning its wheels.

★ ★ 1/2

The above ratings are based on a 4-star scale. Follow WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley on Twitter @AboveTheJFray or on his blog The Film Spectrum.

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