Anyone who’s seen the trailers and promos for the last—fingers crossed—installment of The Hangover franchise knows that, among other instances of senseless animal cruelty, Todd Phillips’ Part III features giraffe decapitation by highway underpass. I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to. It’s not very funny, and completely tangential to the plot, but then a lot of things are. The problem is it takes place in the first five minutes, and the movie tries really really hard to top it for the remaining hour and a half. It fails.
There are some movies that should stand alone; sequels, prequels, remakes, and spin-offs can only harm their reputation. The first Hangover is one of these movies. Perhaps the funniest and most entertaining film of 2009, it was an uproariously hilarious lowbrow achievement of raunch, profanity, and political incorrectness, and a modernized, twisted return to a simpler, gentler age (circa 1980) when bros and boobs ruled the comedic screen. Part II made the mistake of trying to outdo it, but, although inferior to its predecessor and patently unoriginal, replicating every situation of the first with mechanical obligation, it was still a good time. Part III tries to top both movies. Combined. Losing the expected, exciting backtracking structure—and any sort of boozing and hangovers, debauchery and fun, for that matter—this Hangover does away with the comedy almost entirely, replacing laughs with the half-parodied, predictable conventions of a bad, exposition-heavy B-movie caper played chronologically and completely soberly.
The above-mentioned giraffe belonged to hairy man-child Alan, and the highway fiasco inadvertently results in the death of a minor character. The Wolfpack, made up of charming teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), much-abused dentist Stu (Ed Helms), and ever-absent Doug (Justin Bartha), rides—or rather stumbles, bumbles, and limps exhaustedly—to the rescue, staging an overdue intervention. They convince Alan to go to a psychiatric facility in Arizona for some direly needed treatment, promising to drive him there themselves.
On the way, they’re run off the road by a gang of pig-masked thugs presided over by crime boss Marshall (John Goodman in a thankless, surprisingly straight-faced role). The hulking mobster explains that for reasons convoluted and irrelevant, their Las Vegas bachelor bacchanal years ago somehow allowed Asian sociopath Chow (Ken Jeong) to walk away with truckloads of Marshall’s gold. Taking Doug hostage, the gangster gives the Wolfpackers three days to locate their whiny, violent, drugged up sidekick/nemesis, along with the stolen gold.
From here, the films devolves in a series of perfunctory stunts, shoot-outs , chases, and aerial escapes, with awkward trips to Tijuana and Sin City, and clumsy working in of old characters and fan favorites for a curtain call.
Cooper and Helms seem bored most of the time; their heart isn’t in it anymore. “Who the fuck cares,” Phil keeps asking, and these words resonate in the actor’s performance. One of the film’s many misgivings is its insistence to focus on characters that were meant for supporting roles. As the deadpanned, socially inept outcast in the first two films, Galifianakis worked his specific kind of mindless magic, but his central placement ensures he will wear out his welcome fairly soon. The effeminate psycho Chow becomes even more irritating in large doses, and comes dangerously close to racist parody. Melissa McCarthy—whom I’ve considered the female version of Galifianakis ever since her raunchy, riveting role in Bridesmaids—plays a vile Vegas pawnshop owner, only confirming the suspicion that less is a whole of hell lot more, in a delicious, devilish, disgusting scene that matches the first Hangover in quality. All I’m saying is that red lollipops change mouths.
The Hangover Part III is too in love with itself, the self-important seriousness of the quasi-thriller subplot, and its falsely perceived sense of mock epicness. The movie’s forbearers were farces driven by a sense of absurdist anarchy and joy. This second unnecessary sequel is driven by dollars. Only in a sequence during the closing credits that is well worth the wait do we encounter some of the old antics and a surge of comedic adrenaline. The promise of that short 90-second scene makes the failings of the film even clearer. I guess this is what happens when money, over mind and matter, dictates what movies Hollywood releases: an overblown, over the top exercise in pitiable pointlessness. Part III is not a road trip; it’s road kill.