“The Hangover,” the big surprise comedy hit of the summer of 2009, was an audacious, original comedy, featuring a dynamite premise, a cast led by underappreciated talents, and a whole lot of laughs.
Its sequel, two years later, was less of a success, playing out the plot exactly the same way with exactly the same beats, only moving the setting to Thailand, and making the gags even more over the top. There were some laughs, sure, but the second film was missing the one thing that made the first one work- the element of surprise.
Now, we have “The Hangover Part III,” the promised last edition of the series, which brings the action back to the U.S. and departs significantly from the formula of the first two movies- the main plot does not involve a wedding, a blackout, a roll of pictures or Mike Tyson. The new film is an improvement over the last one, but it’s nowhere close to the original because it’s missing one crucial ingredient: laughs.
In a twist, the vibe of ‘Hangover III’ is less that of frat comedy, than of a crime and action film with light comedic elements. The plot consists of the protagonists (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and always-forgotten Justin Bartha), running afoul of a gangster (John Goodman) who’s going after gold stolen by series mainstay Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong.)
The plot hopscotches from Los Angeles to Arizona to Mexico and, finally, to Vegas. We get chase scenes, gun battles, hanging from buildings, and a trip back to Sin City for a third act that’s pretty much just an action-adventure setpiece that owes more to “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Con Air” than either of the first two “Hangover” films.
The film is well-photographed, and director Todd Phillips might want to take a stab a pure, “Midnight Run”-like crime comedy. But the downfall of “Hangover III” is that nothing that happens is particularly surprising or funny. And that’s not all that’s problematic here.
There was always something a bit off about Galifianakis’ character, Alan, who’s just been an all-purpose weirdo over the course of the series. He’s a stunted man-child who may or may not be an autistic savant, mentally ill in some other way, and/or a pedophile. The new movie addresses this head-on, and not really in a good way: Early on, its established that Alan does in fact have a diagnosed mental illness, and that he needs to enter a mental institution for treatment.
But once the plot kicks in before he can get there the film just sort of drops it, save for one line of dialogue about an hour later in which a character who’s not a psychiatrist concludes that no institution can possibly help him. In the end, ‘Hangover III” becomes yet another film in which the cure for mental illness is to fall in love with a good woman; Bradley Cooper knows the drill when it comes to that.
Similarly, a scene in which Alan is reunited with the baby from the first movie, now a 4-year-old, plays way creepier than it should, because of various one-off illusions throughout the past films that Alan is a sex offender.
This movie also seems to think that the violent death of animals is just inherently hilarious, and goes back to that well repeatedly. I know there was a monkey and tiger in the first movie, but I don’t remember them being slaughtered, to laughs. It also heavily features Ken Jeong’s Chow character, and as most Community fans know, a little bit of Jeong goes a long way. And while Goodman gets to have a lot of fun, in a rare outing as a villain, he at one point refers to Jeong as “The Chinaman,” in a move likely to infuriate “Big Lebowski” fans who know that’s not the preferred nomenclature.
There’s also a post-credits tag that, while it’s true to the spirit of the series, is probably the least funny thing in the movie.
Assuming the filmmakers stick with their pledge to stop making “Hangover” installments after the third, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the first movie, and only the first movie, is what people will remember.