THE HANGOVER PART III Review

If you know me personally then you know I have a big soft spot for comedy. I love it and I pretty well like everyone involved in the mainstream comedy game in Hollywood. I root for the underdogs the critics like to bash (I'm hoping The Internship is good, but feel the critical response will be worse than it is for this one) and I've felt I've especially had to stand up for The Hangover films since many, fans included, were disappointed in the carbon copy follow-up the second film turned out to be. I was, like most, a huge fan of the first film. I found it refreshingly funny and daring. It didn't care what anyone thought, it just wanted to be funny and that is what comedy is supposed to be. There should be no fear when putting what you think is funny on screen and that element I think is what saves the third and final part of this men behaving badly series. Director Todd Phillips and writing partner Craig Mazin (Identity Thief) listened to the audience reaction to Part II and appeased the crowds by saying, "okay, we'll do something different for the third one." Naturally, this was a smart move but as the first reactions have come in it seems people are upset that there is no trace of an actual hangover anywhere in the film and that instead of following the antics of these guys on a chase through a random city that has them putting together the pieces of the night before it has them exploring the truth about Alan's psyche and wanting to help him move on with his life. In some aspects it is a film completely devoted to character development and getting Zach Galifianakis' lovable goofball to a place where we as an audience feel content to leave him and the rest of the time it is almost a dramatic man hunt movie that has the wolfpack tracking down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). The Hangover Part III is certainly not what you would expect from the trilogy and compared to the others it is definitely the least funny, but that didn't make it a bad movie. In some ways it even made it more of a legitimate film.

Marshall (John Goodman) has some unfinished business with Mr. Chow.
Even if you were put off by the laziness in the script of the second film you at least had to admit it was funny. On repeat viewings I've even felt I like the second film more than the first as there is actually more at stake and real danger present as opposed to the simple shenanigans of the first. Still, it was apparent even from the first trailer that besides the plot construction and change of pace there would be something different about this third film. And Phillips made it clear from the opening song choice that this was going to be a much darker film than the previous ones and even dare to get a little more strange, if not as outlandish as Part II. Opening with a beautifully shot prison break by Mr. Chow from a high security Thai prison set to a moody score and specific lighting it seemed Phillips might really be on to something special here. The film then returns to our protagonists to give us a quick catch up. Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) are living out their married lives and continue to be friends while Doug (the always brief Justin Bartha) and the rest of his in-laws are dealing with Alan refusing to take his meds and becoming increasingly demented to the point he buys a giraffe and accidentally decapitates it on the drive home. It's a great little gag, but it sets the stage for the death of Alan's father which prompts Alan's mom to stage an intervention that brings each member of the wolfpack to Alan' side for support. It is on their way to the rehab facility that they are run off the road and kidnapped by Marshall, John Goodman adding a nice bit of class to the joint while being somewhat underused, a man who has lost $21 million in gold bars to Chow and holds the wolfpack as the only guys he can link him with. He holds Doug hostage (a great little inside joke that no seems to view as a joke) and gives Phil, Stu, and Alan the task of bringing him Chow within three days or killing their friend.

The thing about this set of movies and what will make this third one especially endearing for those fans of the films expecting more of the same from Part III is the relationship between the three leads. The thing we took away most from the first film was the bond that was formed on that fateful night in Vegas and that these guys truly became a wolfpack of some sort even if that companionship was still fractured throughout the second film. In the third film this fact is completely accepted, even by Stu who was always the most resistant. If you like the characters, if you simply enjoy hanging out with these guys and watching them get into a little trouble and go on adventures then you will certainly appreciate this opportunity to visit them again though that isn't to say you won't be slightly let down by the direction or tone of the film. It is a case of loving these characters will make you well enough like the film. Though I really do appreciate what this film is trying to do in that it was brave enough not to include the titular after effect and explore the facets of the can of worms that night four years ago opened up. This throughline of storytelling is what, for me, makes this a satisfactory conclusion to the series. The way it does in fact all come back around to make a complete story and along the way giving us a real opportunity to get to know at least Alan in more ways than just skimming the surface.

One of my favorite scenes in Part II was when the gang visited the monastery and we took a quick trip into Alan's mind that showed he and his friends as children while Stu's soon to be brother-in-law remained his same 16 year-old self. It hinted at what was really going on inside Alan's mind while Part III is really all about the scene-stealing character and his journey from oddly absurd innocence to his own type of maturity. While this does serve as plenty entertaining and strangely fascinating throughout the film it also cuts into Cooper and Helms' time to really explore any more of who their characters have become. Cooper's Phil has always been kind of the leader while being a bit of a tool, but his charm was that he so loved the thought of getting into trouble with Alan, that he genuinely loved laughing with and at Alan. That spirit seems all but gone from him here. Stu, on the other hand seems slightly more confident as a married man, but it's only a matter of time before he slips back into his regular schtick and then there is nothing more. The chemistry is still there, don't get me wrong and there are a few moments that feel completely genuine and are cause for laughter that hearkens back to the first film, but with the focus mainly on Alan here Phil and Stu just don't have that much to contribute.

Phil (Bradey Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and Stu (Ed Helms)
plot their break in to recover Marshall's gold.
Are there other directions they could have gone in Part III? Sure. There are different directions I would have preferred they take especially since the character of Chow became an even more integral part of the trilogy as it went along rather than writing him out completely. Sure, he was a nice little side character in the first film and he garnered a few of the biggest laughs but as nice as Ken Jeong seems to be in real life a little bit of Mr. Chow goes a long way. I don't know who put it in Phillips mind that the general audience was completely in love with Chow but he certainly thought we wanted more and has given us the character in a form here where he could legitimately be counted as one of the leads. They wouldn't have a story to tell or trouble to get wrapped up in if it wasn't for the character which is somewhat understandable but still not the way I would have chose for this all to play out. It was nice to see the nods to the first film pop up throughout whether that be Black Doug (Mike Epps), the return to Vegas, Heather Graham as Jade popping in with baby Carlos (the real baby from the first one, Grant Holmquist!) and even the walks through Caeser's Palace brought back some fond memories, but at the same time it only reminded me of the greatness the first one achieved. Vegas seemed a fitting place to end the story, but I wish Doug would have become more involved finally and that Phil would have suffered some type of damage other than the physical that might damage his supreme self worth he sees in himself. There still didn't have to necessarily be a wedding or a bachelor party (though Melissa McCarthy's cameo and what it amounts to certainly creates a desire to see more), but they could have simply explored the relationships between these guys without something dire even happening. Bring it back down to something simple and elicit the laughs from the core relationships that we are all there for anyway. That would have really been turning the audiences expectations on their heads and might have proved more successful than this one has been with critics so far. The ultimate lesson that I hope is taken away no matter what the eventual legacy of The Hangover Trilogy turns out to be is that the first one will always be a classic, a true comedy that started something huge and gave us quotable line after quotable line with one of the most hilariously dumb characters in cinema history. Whether the two follow-ups diminish that legacy or are looked at in a better light after being given the allowance of time will be interesting to see play out. Still, I can't help but feel that despite its shortcomings I will come around to The Hangover Part III much as I did the second one and appreciate Todd Phillips for bringing to film the comedic voice of this narcissistic, mean-spirited generation.