Say what you will about the sloppy underdog hit The Hangover, it had a couple moments of inspired hilarity, and achieved most of them on the strength of its cast. When The Hangover Part II was released two summers ago to much disdain, I was one of the voices who proclaimed disappointment:
One way to make a sequel of a hugely popular comedy is to take the characters we loved so much in the first film and put them in a different set of comedic circumstances with a couple of callbacks to the original to remind us why we liked them so much the first time.
The other way—let’s call it the way of The Hangover Part II—is to make the exact same movie again, changing only the location (from Vegas to Thailand).
So my expectations for The Hangover Part III were low. Real low.
Well, it seems that director/co-writer Todd Phillips knew enough not to remake the same situation a third time, but this strategy, it turns out, revealed even more of his limitations. Without a fantastic high concept (a mystery about three guys wake up hungover and have to piece together the insane night before) to hold everything together, he is truly lost. Whole sequences in The Hangover Part III that seem to be building towards something revelatory (or funny) go absolutely nowhere and end with a dull thud.
What’s worse, with a script this nonsensical and lacking in actual jokes, he isn’t able to wring any improvisatory magic out of his talented players. Even John Goodman, who plays the dumbest drug lord in history,* is completely wasted in a role that should have been way darker and funnier.
I’ve seen some descriptions of The Hangover Part III that refer to it as a dark road-trip thriller, which suggests that Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis have left the gross-out humor behind and achieved something more edgy and intense. Don’t be fooled. Phillips has already proven that he can’t make road trip movies funny (Road Trip, Due Date), and with The Hangover Part III he’s shown that he can’t make them even halfway involving, even when we’re already pre-disposed to like the characters.
The threadbare plot exists to get the Wolfpack back together again, and after a giraffe and a supporting character are killed off in spectacularly unfunny ways, they do just that to stage an intervention for Galifianakis’ stunted man-boy Alan to get back on is medication. Asked to carry the brunt of the movie, Galifianakis tries nobly, but Alan is better in small doses. Cooper and Helms are relegated to the background and to the one defining characteristic of Phil and Stu — suave and uptight, respectively — for the film’s entirety.
Ken Jeong, on the other hand, gets all kinds of screen time to vamp it up as the increasingly erratic crime boss Leslie Chow, now on the run and more over-the-top than ever. As hit and miss as Jeong’s screen time is, he adds some much needed energy to the whole affair, which is unusually muted.
For people who care about The Hangover canon, there are call backs to situations and characters from the first movie that are designed to satisfy and help fans get some closure, but all they really do is remind us of headier times for the Wolfpack when sending Phil, Stu, and Alan on a mission to uncover a mystery was more fun. The real mystery is how the most successful R-rated comedy franchise in history could tarnish its legacy in just two short years.
* SPOILER ALERT: Seriously. His entire kidnapping plot is to threaten killing someone, kill someone else instead, and let his victims go when they fail to try again?