Film Review: The Hangover Part III

The third time is not the charm in this second sequel, which changes up the franchise formula—and not in a good way.

The general complaint about The Hangover Part II was that it was pretty much a remake of The Hangover I: Same what-the-hell-happened-last-night premise. Similarly sequenced chain of really unfortunate events. And still the same dudes, pratfalling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. But The Hangover Part III is a different beast. Oh, there is still a slippery slope of unfortunate events, and still plenty of WTFs along the way. But no hangover. No morning-after mystery. And, alas, not a lot of laughs.

Less an absurdly antic bromantic comedy than an unstylish action flick with comic asides, Hangover III starts off on two darkly comic notes that completely misfire. While we’re still trying to shake the grungy opening prison break, and then an ill-conceived sight gag involving a giraffe and a low-clearance highway overpass, the first reel drags out the death by heart attack of man-child Alan’s dad (Jeffrey Tambor), who keels over in the next room while oblivious Alan (Zach Galifianakis) sits in the foreground listening to music on his headphones. This is what’s known as a dubious beginning. But worse, it’s a harbinger of things to come.

If anything more childish than ever—and less charmingly so at this point—Galifianakis’ Alan goes into a real funk after Dad’s death. This leads to a typically cringe-inducing family-and-friends intervention, at which it is announced that Alan has been booked at an Arizona desert mental-health facility that optimistically calls itself New Horizons. But the only thing promising about this development is that it will involve a road trip that includes fellow “wolfpack” members Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha)—because we all know what happens when these guys get together and go anywhere.

Sure enough, things start going wrong in a hurry, as the four amigos get ambushed on the highway by crime boss Marshall (John Goodman), who wants them to recover 21 million dollars worth of gold stolen by recurring clown villain Mr. Chow (Ken Leong). The details of why Marshall thinks that Alan, Phil and Stu are the best men for the job are laid out in what feels like pages of expository monologue—which is more than anyone should have to wade through while reading a review. Suffice it to say that Marshall is holding hapless Doug as his leverage hostage, vowing to put a bullet in his brain if the guys don’t deliver Chow and the gold. Are we rolling in the aisles yet?

What follows is a fairly generic action-movie road map, involving an elaborate luxury hacienda break-in, an even more elaborate casino penthouse suite break-in, lots of car chasing and crashing, and a few too many gang-style executions, highlighted by “Walking Dead”-worthy brain-matter blood-spray. Along the way, more innocent animals get killed off, ostensibly for the inherent comic effect. You know, just like that poor giraffe. In other words, don’t get too attached to any dogs or fighting cocks you encounter here.

And that pretty much sums up a heavy-handed non-comedy, which is seldom funny even when it’s trying to be—unless you think that Galifianakis lip-synching an angelically high-pitched rendition of “Ave Maria” at a graveside funeral service, is, well, funny. As for Leong’s cartoonishly caricatured Mr. Chow: Wasn’t one movie more than enough of him? Did test-screening scorecards really indicate that people enjoy having him around?

Come to think of it, there isn’t anyone who is really likeable—or even relatable—in this edition. Not that these guys were all that likeable to begin with. But here, they have not only not grown as characters, they’ve actually regressed. Cooper’s Phil has taken his cool-dude cynicism to a new level of blunt-force callousness. Helms’ Stu is as whiny and insecure and prone to nausea as ever, which is getting old. As for Galifianakis’ Alan and his whole man-boy savant thing, it has officially worn out its welcome—especially now that it’s fully infused with a petulant, self-centered mean streak. If it’s mean they wanted, why didn’t they just bring back Rachael Harris as Melissa, Stu’s acerbically emasculating (ex-) girlfriend from Hangover I? It would have made at least as much sense as inviting back Heather Graham’s heart-of-gold escort Jade for a short, sweet, pointless interlude. Because, really, isn’t ultra-bitch Melissa the life-partner Stu truly deserves?

As if to bring the trilogy full circle, Hangover III finds its way back to Vegas, for its slam-bang finale. And though it makes a certain narrative sense, it can’t quite move us past the idea that, locale-wise, our heroes have already been there and done that and milked it for all it’s worth. Not even Melissa McCarthy, as an ornery pawnshop proprietor who strikes romantic sparks with Alan, can make this return trip worthwhile.

Interestingly, what really brings this saga full circle—and provides the movie with its biggest, ballsiest laugh—is one last group hangover, the morning after one last wolfpack wedding. For this one fleeting scene, the antic magic is back. But it’s too little, too late—especially since it shows up late enough to interrupt the end credits. Which means that a fair number of disappointed patrons may never even see it, having already bolted for the exit doors.