THE HANGOVER PART III– 3 STARS
On this website, many of the do’s and don’t’s of movie sequels have been tossed back and forth whether we’re talking about Kung Fu Panda 2, Iron Man 2 or 3, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, or the recent Star Trek Into Darkness. Some get it right and develop a noteworthy and stable franchise. Others do not and kill the buzz and joy that the original had. For many moviegoers, that was The Hangover Part II two years ago. It took all of the fresh originality of the original and sullied it with repetitive gags.
In that review in 2011, I attempted to give The Hangover Part II some credit to one method of sequel making, stating the “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” methodology. Where most successful sequels choose to build and push their story and characters forward from the first film, much like I talked at great length about last week with Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film didn’t go that route. It was like The Hangover writer-director Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. Pictures stopped at the light bulb idea step of “give the people what they want.”
They knew the formula of The Hangover sold tickets to the tune of becoming (then) the second highest grossing R-rated film in history with over $277 million and a surprise Golden Globe winner for Best Musical or Comedy. It was fresh, fun, and perfectly shocking. For The Hangover Part II, the team pretty much repeated the exact same story structure of the first movie and just changed the settings to Thailand. Phillips and studio execs got what they want because The Hangover Part II nearly matched the domestic grosses of the first (over $254 million) and surpassed the original worldwide with $581 million overseas, far out-earning its reasonably modest $80 million budget. They laughed all the way to the bank while we were left with a great deal of disappointment and dissatisfaction. For me, I still laughed and had a good time, though The Hangover Part II has not aged well in two short years.
The hype this time around for the third, and reportedly final, chapter has definitely cooled from the 2011 buzz for the first sequel. Part II was that disappointing. The actors and filmmakers involved all promised a story that breaks the cookie-cutter employed in Part II. The problem is all we see in the marketing is a return to Las Vegas and more Zach Galifianakis jokes. While Sin City is ripe for more great times and Alan is the linchpin for most of the franchise’s comedy, that doesn’t exactly promise newly blazed trails.
The first film was kind of Bradley Cooper’s movie. His Phil was our alpha male lead to get the “Wolfpack” out of jams. The second one was definitely Ed Helm’s chapter as Stu, where the overarching dilemma surrounds his wedding and insecurity. For The Hangover Part III, this becomes Alan’s story. His path is the leading stream through the trees. Alan has been off his meds for six months and is terrorizing his parents at home. When his “life partner” father (Jeffrey Tambor) dies, he’s left alone and worse than before. His trusty brother-in-law Doug (Justin Bartha) arranges the group back together to give Alan an intervention and an escorted trip to an Arizona mental retreat.
Their scenic “bro-ad” trip is interrupted by a moving van filled with masked men that run their car off the road and kidnap them. The lead perpetrator is “Black” Doug (Mike Epps) from the first film. His boss, drug lord fat cat Marshall (John Goodman), has an unsettled beef over stolen gold bars with new international fugitive Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who has dramatically escaped from Bangkok prison. Since Alan is one of Chow’s only contacts, Marshall takes “White” Doug as collateral and blackmails the Wolfpack to find and capture Chow. That’s the track that takes us to the peak of the dropping and looping roller coaster. With a trip to Tijuana, a home invasion heist, murdered gangsters, and double-crosses aplenty, all roads inevitably lead them back to Las Vegas to finish the challenge and bury a few hatchets.
Well, it took a second try, but The Hangover Part III actually attempted the rule of a good sequel by expanding the story and raising the stakes. Because this is the finale, there are still plenty of nods and connections to the first two films, but Todd Phillips did attempt some new shenanigans. The trouble is I’m not sure if it was a direction that worked.
By ditching the rehashing-flashback structure from the first two films and bringing in elements and hues of road movies, parenting dramas, and even violent crime thrillers, the result is certainly different than repeating the first movie again like a cookie-cutter. However, it’s a bit too far and too extreme. I will call this movie better than the second one, but not by much because of the jarring transformation of tone and humor. It wants to be bold, but it all doesn’t work or fit together. A great deal of that lovable fun of the classic first is long gone.
Buyer beware, this third film is a colossal dose of Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong. If you don’t like Zach’s humor or watch Community too much to wish Ken would snap out of his bad accent (or if you ladies were counting on Bradley Cooper’s dreaming blue eyes), the movie will have the opposite effect and wear thin for you in a hurry. Waiting for Galifianakis to finish his off-kilter comedy bits to extend already-completed narrative scenes gets tedious, even in a movie under two hours. Since becoming a comedy star after the first movie, I find his bit over-exposed and stale after repeating it in just about every movie (Due Date, The Campaign, etc.). He even drags down a brilliant cameo from Melissa McCarthy, who’s nearly untouchable with her appeal. Zach’s stuff either works for you or it doesn’t.
Is The Hangover Part III dumb, strange, and weird? Yes, most certainly. Will you still laugh? I don’t know about you, but I still did. After all, that was the point. This film isn’t trying to be an Oscar contender and it still entertained me plenty. I, for one, can handle it and still find joy. It earned my money’s worth, but it’s not must-see. The Hangover Part III is good enough to end the train derailment from Part II, but still has no hope to match the classic and enduring freshness and hilarious energy of the original. I’m glad it’s over.
LESSON #1: FINDING HEALTHY FRIENDSHIPS— While I could spend another 600-something words just giving you endless Jackass 3D-style life lessons numbering in the 20’s of what NOT to do from The Hangover Part III, like drive a giraffe under a low overpass or trust the tensile strength of a rope made out of tied bed sheets, I’ll actually hone the lessons down to somewhat legit takeaways. Even after all of the crap Alan has put these guys through, these four guys are each dependent on each other and support each other’s well-being at the end of the day. With the goal of getting Alan some help, he needs healthy friendships from Doug, Stu, and Phil, even if it’s built on colossal mistakes. More on those will come later.
LESSON #2: THE IMPORTANCE OF GROUP LOYALTY— Having healthy friendships is a great start. The glue that likely brought those friendships together and continues to protect them is loyalty. Once again, no matter the circumstances, mistakes, or frustrations, a true Wolfpack of friends maintain group loyalty. They are true to each other and back each other’s play. Without it, the healthy friendship crumbles and those positive relationships go out a casino window.
LESSON #3: OLD MISTAKES HAVE A HABIT OF RETURNING WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM— Rightfully so, our Wolfpack remains haunted by their prior misadventures in Las Vegas and Bangkok. While those trials and tribulations may have brought them together as shared, character-building experiences, they were hard pills to swallow and the regret and curse of them continues to follow them around. It’s their Vegas past that brings the evil Marshall to them and unpredictable Chow back into their lives. It goes to show that old mistakes, while forgiven, are never forgotten and that revisiting them can be a painful experience.