Silver Screen: The Hangover Part III *1/2
Sequels don’t get much more unlikely than The Hangover Part II.
When a Hollywood movie makes big bank, of course, nothing is impossible, but the notion that the same three guys would manage to get inadvertently drugged again and lose a member of their party again before another wedding was pretty improbable. At least as improbable, as, say, Sandra Bullock being trapped on another vehicle that cannot stop or Macaulay Culkin being accidentally abandoned by his parents at Christmas for a second time.
Director Todd Phillips changed only the details in the second go-round, swapping out Vegas for Thailand and trading a baby for a monkey, to significantly diminishing comedic returns. For the third and, God and overseas box-office willing, final installment, Phillips abandons the formula entirely. It opens the movie up to new possibilities, but mostly it just proves that, without the gimmick, there’s no particular reason whatsoever we should be following these guys around.
In a stupid opening sequence that strains for comic shock value, deranged man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) accidentally beheads his pet giraffe, setting off a series of events that leads to his father dying of a heart attack. His family decides the latest scandal is one too many and conscripts buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) to drive him to a sanitarium. But on the way they’re waylaid by gangster Marshall (John Goodman), who kidnaps the still-hapless Doug and holds him hostage to force our boys to track down the obnoxious Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who has absconded with $20 million in gold.
In retrospect, maybe it would have been less stupid if they all got drugged again.
Stripped of the clever premise that propelled the first movie, the third installment becomes a generic road comedy. There’s already been a spiritual road-comedy sequel to The Hangover; Due Date covered that same territory, and better.
Phillips seems to be under the mistaken impression that it was the characters who made The Hangover work. Alan is Galifianakis’s go-to comedy persona, not much different here than in Due Date (and also The Campaign and Dinner for Schmucks), while Stu and Phil are indistinctive one-note ensemble players, the Confident One and the Nervous One, who stand out only insofar as they’re played by strong performers. These guys are indeed talented and can wring laughter out of mediocre quips, but bereft of audacious gross-outs and sight-gags, they’re disarmed.
Phillips’s cardinal sin, though, is denying the first movie’s amoral charm in an attempt to sentimentalize the series. Most of The Hangover Part III is spent revisiting the people and places of the original. There’s a return to Vegas, and along with it appearances by Black Doug (Mike Epps), Heather Graham’s friendly stripper, and even the now grown-up kid Alan carted around in a baby bjorn. These scenes are intermingled with wistful shots of the guys in the previous two films. The attempt to nostalgize this stuff is a betrayal of the borderline-nihilistic humor that made the first one such a success. I’m not sure what America needed less, a repeat of the Hangover or a Hangover without a hangover, but what it definitely did not require is one so bloated with misplaced self-reverence.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.