(This review was originally published on May 22, 2013 at Reel Film News)
– ZERO STARS –
Sitting through the “Hangover” sequels has been like helplessly watching from a remote satellite feed while someone vandalizes my car.
The 2009 mega-hit original was something of an anomaly, at least as far as box office-topping comedies go. Why? Because it was actually funny, particularly amidst the proliferation of disposable “gross-out” fare at the time. But something that was once great has been dismantled and sold for scrap – inevitable, I suppose, in Hollywood.
After 2011’s miserable, mean-spirited “Hangover Part II”, it was apparent that director Todd Phillips’ success with the first film should be attributed mostly to writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. They loaded the Vegas-based bachelor party scenario with just the right amount of raunch, bad decision-making and expletive-laden dialogue.
They also introduced us to the The Wolfpack, an unlikely group of guys who once had a hilariously volatile dynamic. Was it genius? Of course not. But it was an overhaul to the adult comedy, which, like “Wedding Crashers” and Phillips’ own “Old School” before it, had a concoction that created a refreshing comic equilibrium. The characters, who had to retrace their steps after being in a drug-induced stupor, each had their own moral flexibility, but also possessed just enough conscience for us to give half a crap about the outcome.
Now, with their collective fate in the hands of co-writers Phillips and Craig Mazin (two-thirds of the writing team from “Part II”), The Wolfpack have become a household name for all the wrong reasons. Indeed, “The Hangover” was not conceived with sequels in mind, but all it would have taken was a little creativity – or perhaps, say, some humor – to mark even the slightest improvement over the last film.
Instead, “The Hangover Part III” continues the downward spiral of the characters’ bizarre, increasingly narcissistic behavior as we find Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) on a quest to find the squirrelly, drug-addled Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who’s recently escaped from a Thai prison (in the film’s incredibly stupid opening sequence). Seems he spent his time figuring out how to weasel his way into an integral role.
The story begins with an intervention, after Alan’s father (Jeffrey Tambor) dies of a heart attack. Of course Alan, who’s graduated from psychosis to pure Damien-caliber evil, takes the news like it’s a mere inconvenience. On their way to taking Alan to a mental health facility, the gang is accosted by crime boss Marshall (John Goodman) who takes Doug (Justin Bartha) as collateral and gives them a choice: find Chow or Doug dies. Apparently, Chow has roughly $50 million of Marshall’s gold, and Alan, who’d maintained a pen pal ‘bromance’ with Chow while he was behind bars, seems like the best shot at locating him.
Though notably less dark than “Part II” and surprisingly less crude than either of its predecessors, “Part III” offers nothing but contrivance, foisting situations upon us that rely on inexplicable goofiness and spectacle to fulfill its promise as a proper “ending”. Of course, as advertised, the film brings everything full circle back to Las Vegas, but this time around it feels about as energetic as winter in Atlantic City.
Choice examples of the film’s inventiveness include a scene in which a cocaine-addled Chow parachutes off the roof of Caesar’s Palace, belting out “I Believe I Can Fly” as Stu chases him through the streets in a limo; another is an excruciatingly lengthy courtship between Alan and an equally psychotic pawn shop owner (Melissa McCarthy) in which they exchange stares and yell insults at her poor handicapped mother. There are also a curious number of animal casualties – by my count, one giraffe, two Rottweilers and two or three roosters – but chances are if you sat through “Part II”, you’ll already be desensitized to that.
A very weak tie-in to the first “Hangover”, including a brief appearance by Heather Graham, does absolutely nothing to help the film. Phillips’ attempt to milk his characters for another $400 million in box office revenue seems to be the only reason for the film’s existence – not a surprise – and the resulting story is about as laugh-inspiring as a straight-to-video National Lampoon flick.
I hesitate to use the word “concept” in regards to such nonsense, considering that Phillips shifts the primary focus of the “Hangover” to its weakest link, which is the ridiculous Alan/Chow story arc. As with most comedy sequels, things are forced from the beginning, but the film’s worst offense is that it’s painfully boring. Even the scenes in Tijuana are dull. The more stock it puts in its two biggest oddball characters, the more it comes across like a “Police Academy” sequel, as if we’re still supposed to laugh at Michael Winslow for imitating the sound of a police siren. We get it. Alan and Chow are crazy. Nothing new. Just lazy.
Usually, this is where I’d touch on some redeeming qualities – a standout performance or something – but “Hangover Part III” is devoid of anything that might fall in that category. The funniest scene, which isn’t saying much, doesn’t come until the end credits, but if you’ve managed to endure the ninety grueling minutes that precede it, I recommend you stay for at least one decent laugh.