Despite making bizarrely huge box office returns, the reaction to The Hangover Part II was deservedly lukewarm considering it was a lame rehash of the first film but distinctly less likeable. Well, director Todd Phillips obviously heard the criticism and his response is The Hangover Part III, a film which not only is a departure from the template of the first two movies, it’s pretty much a departure from comedy in general.
The focus this time around is more on plot and action than the gags which populated the previous movies. It’s a welcome change of pace but the plot isn’t particularly compelling nor is the action particularly exciting. Without the emphasis on humour, the film just feels like a sub par action movie.
The Hangover Part III also falls into the old trap of promoting the popular supporting players to lead status, a move which rarely ends well. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) was undoubtedly the funniest part of the first film but he works far better as a scene-stealer than a leading man and Part III is far too reliant on Alan’s oddball antics to get the laughs which begin to wear thin pretty quickly.
The film opens with an awful sight gag as Alan inadvertently murders a giraffe he’s just bought, leading to a massive pile up and thousands of dollars worth of damage. This is the last straw for Alan’s family and friends who are both annoyed by and worried about his increasingly erratic behaviour. They decide to stage an intervention to convince Alan to go to rehab. For what exactly is never really clear but nevertheless, Alan agrees as long as The Wolfpack go along with him so Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) take off on a road trip with Alan to the rehab clinic.
On the way, the guys are ran off the road by ruthless gangster Marshall (John Goodman) who demands they help him track down the maniacal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and the gold he has stolen from Marshall. Other than some muddled attempt to tie Marshall into the first movie via Mike Epps’ drug dealer Black Doug, it’s not really clear why such a high level mobster would enlist four people he doesn’t know to find someone who owes him so much money. Nevertheless, Marshall forces The Wolfpack into helping him by kidnapping Doug, again sidelining poor Justin Bartha from the plot.
Sadly, that plot is heavy on Chow, a move far more egregious than making Alan the lead character. Jeong’s small part (ahem…) provided big laughs in the first movie but the more screen time he has, the more grating he becomes and there’s far too much of him here. Even worse, aside from Alan he’s the only source of jokes in the movie and most are more irritating than actually funny.
The main problem with Part III is that Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazan obviously haven’t worked out what it is people liked so much about the first movie. There was a lot of fun to be had watching these hapless characters trying to piece together the ridiculous events of the night before. But with Part III, that inspired madness is gone and the rest of the film doesn’t have enough to support itself. Cooper and Helms appear to be on autopilot, basically just there to react to Alan, whose general weirdness is often just icky rather than funny. Phillips and co also insist on throwing in some ill-judged dramatic moments for Alan which either fall flat or come across as entirely creepy.
With every instalment in this series, it becomes clearer and clearer that The Hangover was a one-hit wonder. The Hangover Part III isn’t completely incompetent: Phillips knows where to point a camera and some scenes are impressively staged but it just isn’t funny or likeable enough. The biggest laughs in the film come from Melissa McCarthy’s cameo – which is spoiled in the trailer – and a mid-credits stinger that is hilarious but only serves to highlight how deficient the comedy in the rest of the film was.