The Hangover: Part III

Director    Todd Phillips
Starring    Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, Heather Graham
Release    24 MAY (US) 24 MAY (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


22nd May 2013

Only now that it has reached its merciful conclusion, we can see that The Hangover trilogy plays out a lot like a night of drunken excess. To start with, everything you say or do seems riotously funny and original. Then, as the night grows old, the attention goes to your head; you begin to repeat yourself, and your humour takes on a nasty edge. Finally, three sheets to the wind and completely intoxicated on your own brilliance, you become boorish, hateful, unnecessarily violent, idiotic and completely unrecognisable from the man you once were. That's certainly how my Saturday nights usually pan out, anyway.

The Hangover: Part III is the kind of comedy you get when Part I and Part II gross over a billion dollars. It is big in scale but low in ideas and lower in laughs. Director Todd Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin show a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the first Hangover a success: a sense of fun. It is so far removed from the first movie in terms of tone it almost defies belief it is made by the same people.

Quiet on the set, everyone - a joke is happening!

Part I had a wedding and an absent groom, meaning the stakes were never higher than your average caper movie. Two movies later, and the law of the sequel dictates events must be bigger and crazier than before. Now, Doug isn't just lost, he's kidnapped and held under the threat of death. Characters are shot and killed. Animals are slaughtered for yuks. Ha... ha? That playful, carefree tone of 'What happens in Vegas' has been replaced by a seedy atmosphere in which comedy is unable to thrive.

In departing from the tried-and-tested template so rigidly adhered to in Part II, Part III finds us in fresh territory. Without the narrative crutch of the 'morning after the night before' set-up, Phillips and Mazin flounder, proving themselves utterly incapable of maturing their characters or developing any kind of purposeful narrative. What's more, they've promoted the franchise's most obnoxious character from bit-part player to main event: if any one character sums up what's gone wrong with The Hangover franchise, it's Leslie Chow.

I've already made clear my dislike of Ken Jeong, but Mr Chow reaches teeth-grinding new levels of irritation here; every second spent with him is like listening to nails down a blackboard. Put simply, he does not do or say one funny thing in the entire movie, unless you count literally yelling "I love cocaine!" as a joke. It is a massive error on behalf of Phillips and Mazin to put this character front and centre.

This guy. This fucking guy.

Worse, even the series' likeable characters have become assholes. Bradley Cooper's Phil was never the most sympathetic leading man, but he's now the kind of guy who thinks a giraffe being decapitated is funny ("Who gives a fuck?"); Zach Galifianakis' Alan began the franchise as a naive yet lovable moron but has slowly been turned into a demanding Little Hitler type; not just stupid, but mean with it too. It all adds up to zero likeable characters, save for Ed Helms' dentist Stu, who is basically the series punchbag.

It's disheartening to see the Wolfpack dragged around to form pointless connections to the other movies in the series. Heather Graham's character is rolled out for a distracting cameo (partly to have Alan to interact with the baby from Part I, partly to have a female character with more than one line); John Goodman's gangster has the most tenuous link (so much so we need a flashback AND a character repeating what we saw in the flashback to clue us in); even Vegas feels like a cheap ploy to stoke up familiar feeling. The neon doesn't seem half as enticing and exotic this time round.

Bradley Cooper, hanging by a plot thread, yesterday.

The Hangover: Part III disappoints because there is talent being wasted all over the show. Zach Galifianakis is the source of the movie's only laughs, usually via his mannerisms and line-readings, managing to elevate a tired script that's littered with lazy profanity (The Hangover drinking game: do a shot every time a character says "What the fuck?"). Cooper's inherent charm is entirely absent, ditto Helms' abundance of manic energy, as admired in The Office. The movie's one clever plot switcheroo is quickly made redundant when you realise the ruddy great plot hole that made it possible (how does Chow know where the gold is?). Try as you might, this is a difficult movie to enjoy, much less to love.

After 100 minutes of failing to raise a smile, The Hangover series reaches its bitter end with one last hurrah: a post-credits sting that almost plays like self parody. Before that, there's a whole movie of hateful humour, racism, a weird vein of animal cruelty and anti-Semitism to tolerate. Rather like a real hangover, Part III leaves behind a sour taste and a nasty feeling like you've done something you shouldn't have. Hopefully you'll come to the same conclusion you do every Sunday morning: maybe you just shouldn't drink any more.

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