Known primarily for his work on The Hangover and Joker, Brooklyn-born screenwriter-director Todd Phillips was originally a documentary filmmaker; one who rose to prominence across the independent circuit with a number of projects based on famous and tragic musicians. Through this early work, all of which was released across the late 1990s, Todd Phillips became one of the many breakout filmmakers of his generation when Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman discovered Phillips at Sundance Film Festival and put the backing of burgeoning Hollywood studio Dreamworks behind him, vouching for the new-age filmmaker by acting as executive producer on his opening two films, the Dreamworks-funded Road Trip and Old School.
Propelled by the money and influence of the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, Todd Phillips transitioned away from serious albeit punk documentaries and dived head-first into comedy, directing and co-writing two reputation-building films as a part of his Dreamworks partnership before moving on to Warner Bros for 7 of his next 8 projects, including mega-hits The Hangover and Joker.
Now a prominent filmmaker of outright comedies and darkly humorous thrillers alike, Todd Phillips has made a name for himself as an economical filmmaker with a nose for sniffing opportunities to tell particular stories within any given political, cultural or industrial landscape, often developing films made in limited locations and with limited budgets without either of those restrictions ever encroaching onto the experiences he offers.
Known for finding comedy in dark topics – a well-to-do man spitting on a dog in Due Date; a cast member puppeteering a baby into gesturing masturbation in The Hangover; a dwarf being unable to reach the lock on a door when being asked to leave a murder scene by the murderer himself in Joker – Todd Phillips is about as divisive as he is well known, his films loved and hated but almost always successful both at the box office and within the cultural landscape of his nation.
In this edition of Ranked from The Film Magazine, we put each of Todd Phillips’ 10 feature-length theatrical film releases head-to-head to judge each in terms of artistic achievement, cultural relevance, critical reception and overall enjoyment, in this: Todd Phillips Movies Ranked.
10. School for Scoundrels (2006)
Quite why MGM thought a remake of 1960 British film School for Scoundrels needed to be both brash and American is anyone’s guess, but even with Todd Phillips at the helm – a filmmaker coming off the back-to-back-to-back critical and commercial successes of Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch – there was never going to be much love for a movie about two creepy men lying their way into bed with a woman.
A film handicapped by screenplay issues and all compounded by being centred on unlikeable characters – one a winey traffic warden (Jon Heder) and the other an arrogant and manipulative self-help guru (Billy Bob Thornton) – School for Scoundrels was a film that no doubt thought of itself as clever but was simply too unfunny to be a comedy and too creepy, weird, and male-centred to be a rom-com.
There were signs of some of Phillips’ directorial traits here, namely in the casting of a deep roster of talented individuals, the who’s who of comedy names making for a unique time capsule of the period and fun guessing game if nothing else – look out for Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Dan Fogler, Matt Walsh, Jon Glazer, Aziz Ansari and Jim Parsons among others – but inevitably this remake lived and died by its absurd lack of personality and complete absence of a reason to care for any of the men it centred on.
9. The Hangover Part III (2013)
The Hangover Part III is such a downgrade on parts one and two that it’s almost as if a completely different production team made it.
Doing away with the investigative nature of the previous two Hangover narratives in favour of an out-and-out chase movie – the central gang (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis) having to find and trap Hangover I & II standout Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) for the newly introduced and loosely ret-conned in Marshall (John Goodman) before he kills Doug (Justin Bartha) – The Hangover Part III lost the magic of what made one and two so utterly compelling, and what’s worse is that it did so whilst offering lazy jokes and comic bits that didn’t fit at all with the rules and tones of the original two films.
Despite the high budget, blockbuster-esque feel of the other Hangover movies, Hangover Part III also looked cheap, the live-action shots replaced by poorly rendered CG abominations, including simple shots of the main three in their car. The jarring nature of going between on-location shooting to soundstage-produced segments was recognisable even to the uninitiated and led to rookie mistakes in both blocking and editing.
Overall, The Hangover Part III seemed lazy and phoned in – jokes that weren’t call-backs to the original two films were overplayed and unfunny bits you’d find in poor ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches or lesser-evolved early 2000s comedies like Evan Almighty; an early scene in which Zach Galifianakis’ Alan beheads a Giraffe he has bought is just the tip of the iceberg of nonsense, and were it not for brief moments of emotional resonance and the benefit of the doubt earned through entries one and two, Hangover III would have almost nothing to offer.