The first time that I saw The Hangover, I remember leaving the theater absolutely delighted. The story and characters seemed so fresh and exciting and it all was executed so well that I laughed throughout the entire movie. It was so ridiculous and over the top, but at the same time so hilarious that you couldn’t really help but laugh at the antics of The Wolfpack. The Hangover is the film that really made Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong household names and gave people a new way to look at Bradley Cooper, who I don’t think was traditionally thought of as doing comedy. I knew I had just seen something that would be quoted and replicated for years to come. I didn’t anticipate that the replication would be in the sequel to the film; The Hangover Part II basically recycled just about every plot point from the first movie and simply changed up who was getting married and the location. What had felt so new and original in the original film was now tired and predictable. Mike Tyson in The Hangover = random and hysterical; Mike Tyson in The Hangover Part II = obvious and forced. There were still some laughs to be found, but for the most part The Hangover Part II felt like a lazy cash grab trying to capitalize on the success of the original without bothering to come up with a new script.
When The Hangover Part III was announced, I wasn’t at all excited. Though I like most of the actors in these films a lot, the unoriginality of the first sequel left me skeptical that yet another trip to the Hangover well would elicit different results. I anticipated another formulaic movie where the same basic plot was used and the director and writers simply checked off familiar tropes from the original film. I was also concerned by what I saw as an escalating role of Jeong’s Mr. Chow. A little of Jeong goes a very long way and the more he is used the less successful the project that he is involved in. Jeong is like the spice cumin – to be used sparingly or he overpowers and ruins the entire dish. His continued presence on Community has been one of the biggest problems of the later seasons. So when trailers indicated that Chow was going to feature in the third installment of this series fairly prominently, I did not take that as a good sign.
The good news is that The Hangover Part III is better than The Hangover Part II; the writers seemed to have learned from the criticism of the second film and didn’t make the same mistakes. The film does not recycle the same formula as the previous two films. In fact, no one is even intoxicated in this film; the hangover is more the residual effects of the shenanigans of the earlier films rather than the aftereffect of over consumption. The bad news is that while this is a moderately amusing film, it is nowhere close to recapturing the lightening in the bottle of the first film. It may not actually be that big of an improvement over the second film, but the fact that it isn’t a complete rehash of the first film may have tricked me into thinking this is better than it actually is. It is probably for the best that this is the last film of the trilogy as these characters are close to overstaying their welcome.
The plot to The Hangover Part III is almost beside the point; it’s all about putting these characters into wacky situations. On the way to taking Alan (Galifianakis) to a mental health facility, the Wolfpack is attacked by the henchman of Marshall (John Goodman) who is on the search for Mr. Chow who stole millions in gold from him. Marshall takes Doug (Justin Bartha) hostage (because of course he does – Bartha needs a better agent) and sends the rest of the Wolfpack out to find Chow and bring him back alive. Mayhem ensues.
What is interesting about The Hangover Part III is that this is much closer to a Michael Bay-like action movie than a typical comedy. There is lots of action and stunts, but the film is noticeably light on the actual gags and jokes. I’m not quite sure if I chuckled at some points in the film because I thought they were actually funny or because I just wanted to have something to laugh at.
Part III is definitely the Galifianakis and Jeong show; Cooper and Helms are fairly marginalized in this installment. They are in most scenes, but aren’t given much to do except hang out in the background. One would assume that they are only there because of contractual obligations. Director Todd Phillips appears to have gone all in on the eccentric side characters, forgetting that you need the straight man to balance the whole thing out. The annoying over-reliance on Jeong throws off the chemistry of the group; the Wolfpack really doesn’t spend that much time together as they are constantly being fractured off to provide Mr. Chow more screen time. It gets tiresome.
There are some moments in the film that really do work; Melissa McCarthy proves once again that she’s a comedy all-star in her scenes. She and Galifianakis have very good (if weird) chemistry and the few times she appears on screen are among the film’s highlights. I’m always happy to see John Goodman turn up, though I wish he was better utilized. There are some callbacks to the previous films as well, but those are something of a mixed bag. With Helms and Cooper somewhat disinterested, it falls to Galifianakis to carry this movie on his back and he does his best to milk what he can out of the material that he is given; he gets the majority of the laughs in the film (unless you find Jeong’s Mr. Chow less tiresome than I did), but it is a game of percentages as he is also given the most to do. Still, without Galifianakis’ dedication to the film and selling the gag The Hangover Part III would be in much worse shape.
Some other thoughts:
- My general “meh” attitude to this film cannot be attributed to a highbrow bias when it comes to comedy; I’ve liked plenty of other movies who specialize in frat boy humor (Old School, Dodgeball, etc.). They just have to be original and done well.
- PETA is not going to be a fan of this movie – there is a lot of senseless murder of animals in this one.
- Ed Helms should possibly be concerned – his two money makers (The Office and The Hangover films) have both come to an end and the finales of both did not exactly showcase his talents. He may need some new representation.
- Based on the demographics of the people at my screening, this movie will be very big with the 16-19 year old crowd. It was a little depressing to look around and realize that with a few very different life choices, I could have been the mother of someone the same age as most of the people in the theater.
- Bradley Cooper in aviator sunglasses is not a bad look. At all.
- Stay after the credits for some bonus material.
The Hangover Part III isn’t abysmal, but it isn’t good either. The decision to elevate Mr. Chow from supporting to main character really undoes this film for me. He’s a one trick pony that wears out his welcome very quickly. The odd decision to throw in a lot of action over humor also hurts the overall quality of the film. The Hangover movies were never art, but the first film was endlessly entertaining and worked because it was novel and unexpected. The subsequent movies have been a case of diminishing returns. The abandonment of the basic formula of the first two films gives The Hangover Part III some originality, but that is only enough to slightly elevate it over the disaster of a second film. It’s time for all involved to take a hangover cure and move on.
The Hangover Part III opens nationwide today.