Much like an actual hangover, the Hangover franchise has lingered around multiplexes long after the pleasant buzz of the original hit has passed. The Hangover Part III, then, is the cinematic equivalent of the two aspirin and/or special cocktail of Tabasco sauce, raw eggs, peanut butter and whatever the hell else is in the fridge that you knock back in order to rid yourself of that queasy feeling that accompanies the morning after a long night of binge drinking. The only difference is that those miracle cures generally improve your mood, whereas this movie will likely leave you more nauseous. In the interests of AA-inspired group sharing, if you're planning to spend Memorial Day weekend in the company of the Wolf Pack, here are five things you should know:
There's No Actual Hangover
The secret to the success of the first movie (which, full disclosure, I found only moderately funny) was its killer comic hook: three guys wake up following a night of drug-fueled debauchery and have to piece together all the crazy shit that went down during those lost hours, most notably the location of their missing buddy, Doug (Justin Bartha). It was such a sure-fire gimmick, director Todd Phillips repeated it for the universally despised sequel, which changed the setting (swapping Thailand in for Las Vegas) and the identity of the missing person (Mason Lee's Teddy rather than Bartha's Doug) and not much else. Well aware that he can't get away with repeating the same scenario for a third time, Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Craig Mazin) fashions a more traditional quest for the Wolf Pack trio of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis): instead of having to find out what happened to themselves and their pal during one particularly wild night, they're tasked with locating a fugitive -- Ken Jeong's manic outlaw, Leslie Chow -- over the course of a roughly two-day period at the behest of the gangster Chow ripped off, Marshall (John Goodman). It's a journey that starts in Tijuana before leading them, inevitably, back to Vegas, where they encounter a few old friends (like Heather Graham's stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold) and meet some new ones (such as Melissa McCarthy's burly pawn shop owner who takes a shine to Alan... apparently, because they're both plus-sized and therefore obligated to find each other attractive). While the format switch was probably a smart move, turning this installment into The Hangover III: The Search for Chow illustrates how starved for ideas the filmmakers are and confirms that this should have been a one-and-done deal, not a trilogy.
Todd Phillips Really, Really Wants to Direct a Jerry Bruckheimer Blockbuster
Starting with his underrated Robert Downey, Jr./Zach Galifianakis road trip picture Due Date (a movie I laughed at more than any of the Hangover pictures, to be honest, if only for the scene where Downey hauls off and punches a little kid. If only he had repeated that stunt Iron Man Three...) Phillips has made a conscious effort to expand his filmmaking horizons by forcing action set-pieces into his comedies regardless of whether or not they are tonally or narratively appropriate. That trend reaches its logical end point here as The Hangover Part III essentially functions as one long chase sequence where the physical action repeatedly trumps the comic action. (Of course, the significantly reduced laugh quotient might also be due to the fact that the jokes that are in the movie aren't all that funny. Though I will give own up to chuckling at the fate of the poor giraffe that Alan is seen driving home early on in the movie; as A Fish Called Wanda proved, sometimes there is dark comedy to be found in fictional animal cruelty. ) The movie's visuals also have a glossy, golden sheen that's far less classic Phillips and far more classic Jerry Bruckheimer circa Bad Boys and Gone in 60 Seconds. As he prepares to bid farewell to the Hangover series, Phillips also appears to be auditioning for a job in Bruckheimer's factory. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, not everyone can flatter effectively, which is a polite way of telling him that I've seen Michael Bay's Bruckheimer oeuvre and you, sir, are no Michael Bay.
Ken Jeong is the De Facto Lead
A little more than a cameo in the first Hangover, Ken Jeong has essentially supplanted Galifianakis as the franchise's poster boy. Leslie Chow is both the first and last major character we see in The Hangover Part III, as the film opens with him escaping from a Thai prison and closes on a shot of his grinning visage in a post-credits sequence. He's the film's driving narrative force in between those bookends as well, dictating the action even when he's not onscreen. And if you're desperately hoping that he's softened up thanks to the increased exposure, you're out of luck. He's as obnoxious and unpleasant as ever and the movie takes great glee in asking Jeong to debase himself beyond that pidgin accent, whether it's sniffing Stu's ass or sticking his face in a bowl full of dog food. At the same time, I do have to give the actor credit for committing so completely to this role. By this point in the franchise, Chow has become completely untethered from reality and functions as a kind of flesh-and-blood id, with no agenda beyond own self-interest. And Jeong fully embraces that streak of madness, playing Chow as the demented hero of this saga, which to a certain extent allows him to rise above the petty humiliations heaped upon him. Does anyone hand out an award for "Best Performance of the Worst Character"? Because I'd give it to Jeong without question.
It's a Coming of Age Tale
If the Hangover trilogy can be said to have an overarching arc, it's about how an overgrown man-child eventually becomes... well, less of an overgrown man-child. That's right, this is the movie where Alan finally grows up a little, rejecting the hedonism represented by Chow (who has become his pal during the course of the series) and embracing some of the maturity represented by his Wolf Pack buds, specifically by allowing love to enter his life in the form of McCarthy's aforementioned pawn shop owner. With Alan's personal growth and Chang's swath of destruction dominating the movie, there's little left for Cooper and Helms to do and both actors seem all too aware that they're passengers on this particular journey. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're phoning it in, but they do clearly have their eyes on the clock, counting the days until they're able to move on to more substantial material like another David O. Russell movie (for Cooper) and the final batch of Office episodes (for Helms). Okay, so maybe only one of those is actually substantial...
This Is (Not) the End
The trailers and posters may trumpet that The Hangover Part III is, indeed, the final chapter, but that post-credits stinger leaves the door wide open for a fourth, should either Phillips or Warner Brothers require one. And without giving anything specific away, Part IV looks as if it'll be back to following the same playbook as Part I. Honestly, if all the studio wants is to make the same movie over again, they just need to wait ten years and reboot it. That stunt sure worked for Spider-Man.
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