When an R-rated comedy makes $487 million worldwide, a sequel is all but inevitable. When the sequel to that R-rated comedy makes $586 million, another sequel to round out a so-called trilogy is just as inevitable.
That comedy, of course, was The Hangover, the 2009 surprise hit centered on thirty-something men behaving atrociously over a weekend Vegas trip. For all of its celebration of debauchery, dissipation and depravity, The Hangover had a semi-original backward structure and the benefit of novelty. The sequel, The Hangover II, didn’t, replaying the first film beat-for-beat in Bangkok. The third and hopefully last film in the series, The Hangover III, doesn’t have its predecessor’s problems, but it also barely qualifies as a comedy.
While Phillips chose not to repeat The Hangover formula a third time – the not-unexpected subject of criticism two years ago – he didn’t bother to find a narrative structure capable of overcoming the lack of jokes and gags in The Hangover III. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, however. We should start not with the computer-animated giraffe who gave up his digital life so non-discriminating moviegoers could get a chuckle, but with the subsequent scene involving Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the mentally and emotionally challenged co-protagonist of the series, as he unsuccessfully attempts to bring his perpetually harried father, Sid (Jeffrey Tambor), into his skewed view of the universe to explain away the giraffe. Their conversation proves to be their last. Sid dies of a heart attack as an oblivious Alan listens to music on his headphones. It’s a scene meant to be both poignant and funny. It’s neither.
After fast-forwarding to Sid’s funeral where, as usual, Alan acts out with total disregard for social conventions or common sense, his mother and sister decide it’s time for an intervention. They corral Doug (Justin Bartha), his brother-in-law, Phil (Bradley Cooper, bored, somnambulant), alpha male and all-around egotist, and Stu (Ed Helms, manic, once again), the beta male to Phil’s alpha male and the brunt of the series’ endless depredations, mortifications, and humiliations. Together, they decide to ship Alan to a private mental health facility in Arizona. That, in turn, becomes an excuse for a road-trip. Just as predictably, the road-trip goes sideways when Marshall (a scene-stealing John Goodman), a crime boss, sends his men to capture the so-called “Wolfpack.” In short order, Marshall decides to hold Doug as collateral. In exchange, Phil, Stu, and Alan have to find Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the criminal mini-mastermind responsible for causing so much chaos in the two previous entries, and get the $21 million in gold Chow stole from Marshall.
The search inevitably leads to Las Vegas where it all began, but not before an extended detour across the border to Tijuana where Phil, Stu, and Alan locate a bitter, paranoid Chow eking out a living participating in local cockfights. Chow’s new profession gives Phillips the opportunity to stage a non-hilarious encounter with Chow’s prized roosters. All suffer a fate identical to the giraffe’s. Post-Chow’s return, The Hangover III segues into a heist of sorts with Chow leading the understandably ill-prepared trio into the fortified home belonging to a Mexican drug dealer. More sideways plot developments leave Phil, Stu, and Alan back on the road and finally, the return to Vegas promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) in the TV ads and trailers. A tangent briefly introduces Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), a pawnshop owner apparently blessed with Alan’s social disabilities. Unfortunately, the scene is less about Alan finding his “soul mate,” than a carefully calibrated sequence meant to elicit condescending laughter from moviegoers.
When we finally, thankfully leave the Wolfpack behind to the dustbin of cinematic history, order has been restored to their corner of the universe. Once again, they’ve escaped all but the most minor consequences for their actions. We also get one more hangover, but not until the end credits have begun rolling. It’s just as crude, rude, and vulgar as anything in the first and second entries. Even then, however, it’s obvious that there’s nothing new or novel to squeeze out of the “men behaving appallingly” scenario. Everyone in the cast looks positively giddy, probably because they’ve completed their contractual obligations, collected their semi-well-earned paychecks, and can get on with their professional and personal lives outside The Hangover series.
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