By Chaz Lipp
The Hangover Part III is so thoroughly bereft of new ideas, it’s hard to believe it’s from the same team that created the first two. Sure, 2011’s Part II was essentially a less-funny remake of the initial 2009 movie. This new one ditches the entire “hangover” concept, which is really its only claim to “freshness.” Instead of beginning with a confused “morning after” following a wedding, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is seen escaping from a Thai prison. The dull prison break sequence is neither funny nor consistent with the series’ tone in general.
Elevating Jeong, who heretofore had been used sparingly in scene-stealer context, to full-fledged co-star was one of many miscalculations on the part of director Todd Phillips. And by the way, so was drastically upping the sentimental content throughout this utterly edge-free film. Is anyone really buying into Alan and Chow’s bromance? At least their correspondence during Chow’s incarceration, read aloud at a key moment, provides a couple off the cuff laughs. Unfortunately, the off the cuff material (particularly Alan’s mumbled asides) is all that’s funny. The big, labored set pieces are dim reminders of the genuine, “What could possibly happen next?!” atmosphere of the original film.
Alan (Zach Galifianakis), still aimless, off his meds, and living at home at age 42, misses the chance to help save his dad, Sid’s (Jeffrey Tambor), life. He had Billy Joel’s “My Life” cranked on his headphones while his mom called out for help while Sid collapsed from a heart attack. The other members of the Wolf Pack—Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha)—are convinced to take part in an intervention, the goal being to get Alan into a mental health facility. Their minivan is hijacked by a crime boss named Marshall (John Goodman) and his goons (which includes Mike Epps returning as Black Doug). Mr. Chow has stolen a whole bunch of gold from Marshall, who figures the Wolf Pack is his most direct connection to the on-the-lam Chow.
Enough plot summary. All of it leads to Chow being chased down by the Wolf Pack in Las Vegas, apparently an attempt to bring the series full circle. Potentially funny ideas are left unexplored. When the boys seek help from an old friend, Jade (Heather Graham), Alan meets the child (now 4) that he carried around in part one. An edgier movie might’ve seen Alan attempting to abduct the child, who he considers his own. But instead we just get a vaguely creepy scene between man and boy in a tent that goes nowhere. Alan buying a giraffe on a whim is another funny idea, quickly dismissed with a cruelly unfunny decapitation (animal cruelty is an unfortunate motif throughout Part III). And why cast John Goodman as the heavy without thinking up anything for him to do? His generic “bad guy” could be dropped into any bad action film (comedic or not) of the last 20 years.
Perhaps worst of all, the film completely botches its best idea. Alan finds true love in a pawn shop in the form of Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), an uncouth employee who treats her mother as poorly as Alan treats his. For one, with McCarthy on such a hot streak lately it would’ve made sense to have her play a more central role. But her character is introduced so late in the film, and returned to (once) even later, that there is no chance to mine the comedic possibilities of her off-kilter chemistry with Galifianakis.
The biggest laugh in the film occurs after the end credits have begun. Someone has, in fact, gotten married and something horrible has once again happened to Stu. Something so horrible (and hilarious) that some theatergoers actually snapped shots of the movie screen. Something so outrageous, one can only mourn the fact that The Hangover Part III didn’t open with this scene. Seeing Stu deal with this particular body modification might’ve resulted in a hangover to remember.