Time to hang up the franchise with 'Hangover III'
It was the perfect storm of circumstances. First, the Memorial Day holiday and early deadlines; second, an attempted screening malfunction earlier in the week. And finally, the recent trend for studios to launch potential big summer movies on Thursday, rather than the traditional Friday, in hopes of inflating the "weekend" box office gross over four days (five, if the Monday happens to be a holiday), instead of the usual three.
And that, my friends, is how I came to find myself with pen in hand and butt in seat for The Hangover Part III.
Unable to let sleeping dogs lie, director Todd Phillips once again reassembles his cast from the original The Hangover (2009), the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever, about three buddies who lose the groom-to-be after a wild bachelor party in Vegas, and its wicked stepchild, The Hangover Part II, which was basically the same movie, set in Bangkok. No, I haven't seen either of the previous films, and after this one, why would I want to? But it would be unfair to judge the merits of those films based on this anemic and mean-spirited installment, so let's consider Part III on its own terms.
Plot: no bachelor party his time; the feeble excuse for a road trip is an attempted intervention gone awry. The family of Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the bratty, drug-sucking, child-minded (meaning no offense to children) enfant terrible of the group, want him to check into rehab. To do this, they enlist his brother-in-law, Doug (Justin Bartha) and his pals, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) to drive Alan from L.A. to the clinic in Arizona.
But out in the desert, they are jumped by one of those slick, powerful, nasty movie mobsters, Marshall (John Goodman), who's looking for one of their previous cohorts, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Taking Doug hostage, Marshall orders the others to find Chow (who's been emailing his buddy, Alan) and recover a fortune in gold ingots Chow stole from him. Before long, Chow is leading the others on a not-so-merry chase of burglary, vandalism, and vehicular mayhem from Tijuana to—inevitably—Las Vegas.
Characters: you have to feel for Cooper, coming off an Oscar nomination and likely wondering what the heck he's still doing in Hangover movies. Not much in this one, except slow-burning in the face of the walking chaos that is Alan, but Cooper looks good doing it and his likeable Phil is one of the few voices of reason. The other is button-down dentist, Stu, and Helms actually achieves humor once or twice in his frantic reactions.
Jeong is funny as way-over-the-top Mr. Chow, whose free fall hedonism and nasty scamming of the others is the only thing that propels the movie. Then there's petulant, self-centered, defiantly inane Alan, supposedly the comic heart of the story, but in truth a black hole in the middle of the movie, sucking up whatever energy or spirit there might have been, from which no other aspect of the film can escape. Galifianakis is a reliable comic actor, but Alan is a hideous character whose puerile idiocy infects everything else.
At one point in the movie, befuddled Alan tells Chow they can't be friends anymore, because "bad things happen" when they're together, and "people get hurt." "That's the point," wheezes Chow, "it's funny!" Except when it's not. Three people are callously murdered in this movie, not to mention the carnage left in the wake of a runaway car chase down the middle of a broad, busy avenue. A fatal heart attack and a scene of elder abuse are played for laughs. And don't get me started on the animals; at least four innocent critters die violent and/or gruesome deaths. Why? Because it's funny! Ugh.
THE HANGOVER PART III
★1/2 (out of four)
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With Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Ken Jeong.
Written by Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin. Directed by Todd Phillips.
A Warner Bros release. Rated R. 100 minutes.
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