“Can you take Stu instead?”
Love them or hate them, you can’t deny The Hangover and The Hangover Part II pushed the envelope to an extreme. No one anticipated Todd Phillips’ hard-R buddy romp would turn into the phenomenon it did—a hit before its release—and his idea to pretty much remake it in Bangkok for the sequel was an inspired choice for no other reason than it being so uninspired. I loved the first and thought the second’s ability to increase our discomfort level further was just as funny if not quite as unique. Did this mean I went into the inevitable trilogy end cap with high expectations? No, but I did look forward to seeing Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin’s next stop on the insanity train. Too bad they only delivered a lame Hollywood comedy devoid of appeal.
My first thought leaving the theatre was the realization that The Hangover may not be Todd Phillips’ success after all. Perhaps screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore—who have done nothing of real substance before or since—were the true creative talent behind its astronomical box office numbers. The Hangover Part II got lucky because it simply repackaged the original’s concept to an even more heinous cesspool than Vegas, utilizing its process of piecing together a blacked out evening of chaos for laughs and debauchery. I guess they couldn’t bring themselves to do it again because The Hangover Part III decides to let the wolf pack exist without drugs or alcohol. Trust me when I say that without the gimmicky premise to allow their clueless idiocy play as authentic, these characters are beyond annoying.
It’s to the point where Lucas and Moore should have asked to have their “characters by” credit taken off the film because Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are mere shadows of past glory placed inside a story trying way too hard to close a plotline that didn’t need closing. Yes, Alan is a sociopathic manchild who needs psychiatric help, but never before has he been so mean. Dumb and socially awkward worked when bumbling his way into a rocky friendship with the other two guys—vindictive was never in his vocabulary. As for the others, Stu’s closeted “fun guy” in a wet blanket shell loses interest without some crazy incident of bodily harm to unearth and Phil’s leader is relegated to putting Alan’s somehow relevant stream of consciousness ramblings into action.
Instead of the trademarked Hangover adventure discovering the adventure they forget, we’re treated to a run-of-the-mill snatch and grab. It turns out Black Doug’s (Mike Epps) employer Marshall (John Goodman) had twenty million dollars in gold stolen from him by Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) in a series of events that snowballed into hell after Alan bought the infamous roofies. Wolf pack ancillary member Doug (Justin Bartha) is taken hostage—for cyclical purposes—until the other three find Leslie Chow and the money. So, with all their wits about them and the homoerotic kinship Alan shares with the homicidal Chinese gangster, they begin the search scared about what the future may hold rather than the past. There is a heist, a double cross, and too many close calls with no purpose but extending the run time.
Unable to string the gags along as drunken lunacy this time around, each bit feels like a sketch with no real connective tissue to the one before it. The giraffe bit from the trailer is just as stupid as you’d expect; burgeoning romance between Alan and Melissa McCarthy’s Cassie is obvious, brief, and oddly mean-spirited; and a reunion with Jade (Heather Graham) and Carlos (Grant Holmquist) unnecessarily sentimental. The tonal shifts that occur throughout are all over the board and the insane stunts lacking any real life or death stakes. We’re living the implausible fantasy we used to only catch in photos and it’s both too absurd to believe and not absurd enough to warrant our time. Any sense of escalation from Part I to Part II fizzles in a miscalculated attempt to be different.
With each subsequent film the quality of writing is replaced by an over-exposure of Jeong and Galifianakis. Phillips and company see those two actors’ rising appeal as markers for success rather than the script they acted. This is a grave error because Alan and Leslie are the most obnoxious members of the bunch. Brilliant as side characters adding dryly-comic awkwardness so Phil and Stu can perplexedly react to their incoherent ramblings, placing them in the spotlight is the quickest path towards disaster. Intelligence takes a back seat to dumb luck as victory hinges on the warped mind of the series’ true villain. Alan is the man who puts them all in these impossible situations and they somehow survive despite him. Making him the hero now only leads to an excruciating journey of deadpan nonsense.
The filmmakers ultimately let what I loved about the saga go in lieu of a humorlessly mainstreamed formula. Every snag to the wolf pack’s mission arrives without surprise and every joke sans the wit to conjure a laugh. Having Phil, Stu, and Doug married already left the one man who doesn’t deserve our sympathy beg for it, but orchestral heartstring pulls trying to ironically ask me to empathize with Alan’s oafish dolt only made me hate him more. And despite his companions also growing more distrusting and surly towards him, Phillips miraculously has them eventually brush it off with a grin. At least he finally decided to inject some real insanity during the end credits because not only is it the biggest laugh, it’s so over-the-top that all aspirations for a fourth must surely be dead.
 (L-r) JUSTIN BARTHA as Doug, JOHN GOODMAN as Marshall, ED HELMS as Stu, ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan and BRADLEY COOPER as Phil in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “THE HANGOVER PART III,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 (L-r) BRADLEY COOPER as Phil, ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan and KEN JEONG as Mr. Chow in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “THE HANGOVER PART III,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon
 (L-r) GRANT HOLMQUIST as Tyler/Carlos and ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Alan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “THE HANGOVER PART III,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures