The Hangover Part III (sort of) ditches the formulaic setup of the first two installments, in favor of a more linear story revolving around Alan (Zach Galifianakis) who has been in a downward spiral since the sudden death of his father, Sid (Jeffrey Tambor). Alan’s dutiful brother-in-law Doug (Justin Bartha) recruits fellow “Wolfpack” members Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) to stage an intervention and convince Alan to seek treatment so that he can better himself, and his life.
Of course, what should be a simple road trip and drop-off is sidelined by the sudden appearance of a gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), who reveals to the Wolfpack that they have a mutual friend in one Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who recently escaped from a Thai prison and is on the lamb. Marshall kidnaps Doug as ransom for the Wolfpack’s service in luring Chow out of hiding; however, the wily Chow is not so easily caged, as the Wolfpack quickly (and painfully) discovers.
With The Hangover 3, the masses of fans who complained that the second film was a disappointment (due to its replication of the first film’s formula and gags) are now getting what they wanted (for better or worse): something different. Whether that ‘different something’ satisfies or not depends entirely on each viewer’s relationship with the franchise at this point. If you’re invested in the characters and like watching them banter and interact, then Hangover 3 is a solid film; but if your only real interest in the franchise were the sick and outrageous reveals that came with the “What did we do last night?” formula… then the third film is probably not going strike your funny bone all that often. (Maybe you really did want more of the same after all?)
Todd Philips once again directs and re-teams with Part II writer Craig Mazin on script duties. On both fronts (direction and writing) Part III feels like a different sort of film – though it does still contain many of the same elements as the first two installments. A team member in peril; a mystery for the Wolfpack to solve; a set piece-to-set piece progression of clues that deliver some twisted moments and raunchy humor? All present and accounted for. However, this being the end of the saga, there is a level of self-awareness and sentimentality that runs through each callback gag or character interaction – and for once, the heart of the story (there has been one beating all along, in case you never noticed) is worn further out on sleeve than ever before. In a directorial sense, this is probably Phillips best work to date, with some gorgeous landscape images and clever sequences.
There is also a sense of cohesiveness and completion to the larger narrative, as Phillips and Mazin tug on threads of the first two films to weave the story of Part III - including some cameos by characters from the franchise’s sordid past. In a thematic sense, Part III is the actual ‘hangover’ segment of the saga, as our characters (sober-faced, bruised and bloodied) must deal with the full ramifications of their debaucherous adventures. It’s easily the strongest storyline of the three films – though given what preceded it, that’s still not saying much, and the usual plot-holes and ridiculousness can be found by those who go looking. By the end, though, there is a definite sense that these characters have each grown and evolved and their send-off is bittersweet – which is a positive achievement for any franchise.
This altered narrative approach and thematic intent means that the humor in the film is inevitably altered as well. Hangover Part III has the comfort of really knowing who its central characters are (as do the actors now playing them for a third time), resulting in a looser, more improvised style, as evidenced in scenes of banter between the main players. Mazin also wrote this year’s comedy hit Identity Thief, and a lot of Hangover 3 feels more like that film than the franchise we’re familiar with. Not to worry, though: there are still plenty of sex, drug, anatomical and body fluid jokes to go around – although advertising for the film has spoiled many of the best moments. On the whole, the film offers a steady stream of medium laughs, but (with the exception of a sick mid-credits sequence) there are no “classic,” laugh-out-loud or big-cringe moments like first two films had.
In terms of character, The Hangover was an origin story of how three very different guys affect one another and form a bond; Hangover II was Stu’s story of… (cough)… ‘personal discovery,’ but the third film is all about Alan, and Zach Galifianakis rises to the occasion. The only thing more comical than seeing Alan’s usual cutesy/creepy awkwardness is seeing Alan try to mature into manhood. Alan’s concept of “cool” is one of the best reoccurring gags the film has, and Galifianakis’ delivery seems much more organic and fun than the hard stares and snippy lines his character was previously known for.
Cooper and Helms are much more subdued in this installment, mostly serving as backboards for the antics of Galifianakis’ and/or Ken Jeong. Being good co-stars, they effectively support their zany buddies with well-timed sarcasm or looks of bewilderment that assist in making a gag land the right way. Cooper in particular has mastered the art of the “WTF?” look (or line of dialogue), and employs it when called for by Alan’s homo-erotic inferences – alternating with wholesome big brother charm whenever the ‘Pack needs a morale boost. Not being the butt of the joke (pun indented) this time around, Helms’ character is more of a wet blanket than anything – but Helms still finds a way to shine some likable charm where he can.
Ken Jeong gets much more material to work with this time around, but still pretty much portrays the same outlandish Chinese stereotype we’ve seen in previous installments. John Goodman is properly menacing as Marshall, and holds the story together with a proper villain. I won’t spoil the cameos featured in the film – let’s just say the comedic actors (both new additions and returning players) each bring some nice laughs, while other returning actors aren’t all that effective. One cameo in particular may have you getting a bit emotional (if you can believe it).
In the end, The Hangover Part III is an experience best enjoyed by those loyal fans who want to see the end of the Wolfpack saga. Those coming to the franchise for the first time (assuming you exist) will have zero idea what all the hype has been about – while those just looking for a bigger, better set of laughs than The Hangover Part II offered are going to likely (and ironically) be disappointed this isn’t that same kind of party. [Note: Raunch-com fans, stay for the mid-credits sequence and you'll get plenty of sick laughs.]
The Hangover Part III is now playing in theaters. It is 100 minutes long and is Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity.