Review: 'The Hangover Part III', starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis

When The Hangover first knocked us out four years ago, it was a complete revelation. Here we are with this fresh, uniquely-structured comedy full of gonzo characters, a wacky premise, and enough quotable lines to make it an instant classic. And to be fair, that's exactly what it was and still is; an instant classic. It made nearly $500M, basically guaranteeing a sequel, which took the fabled Wolfpack to Bangkok for an overly-familiar story most couldn't hang with.  For me it was less interesting and certainly predictable, but hardly an utter failure. No, that distinction was saved for The Hangover Part III, a comedy which is never funny, strains to be offensive, and seems to have replaced its memorable group of trouble-finding buds with lame imposters.

It's worth noting that things haven't been the same since the original film's scribes Scott Moore and Jon Lucas departed, putting the writing reigns in the hands of franchise director Todd Phillips, who apparently has no idea what The Hangover actually is. It's certainly not a crime movie, but what he gives us is essentially Bad Boys-lite, rather than the Wolfpack's latest drug-crazed night on the town. It's classic overcompensation in the worst way. The sequel took so much flack that Phillips has gone completely overboard in wrapping up the trilogy in a completely new way. In that he's successful. The film bears almost no resemblance to the others, but....doesn't that also sort of defeat the purpose? Who wants to see a 'Hangover' movie that isn't The Hangover??

Weirdly fascinated with the idea of dead animals, the film begins with the accidental decapitation of a giraffe thanks to one of Alan's schemes gone wrong. After a heated argument with his father (Jeffrey Tambor), who immediately thereafter dies from a heart attack (sensing a theme here?), Stu, Phil, and Doug (the group's damsel in constant distress) mount an intervention, convincing Alan to go to a rehab facility in Arizona. Think they make it? Of course not. The mistakes of the first film roar back as they are waylaid by Black Doug (Mike Epps), who quickly grows tired of the not-so-subtle racism of the nickname, and a new villain named Marshall (John Goodman), who wants the Wolfpack to track down their manic frenemy, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has run off with $21M of his gold. “You introduced a virus into my life, Mr. Chow,” he bellows as Doug is taken hostage as collateral because....well, what else is Doug going to do?

Bradley Cooper, who is now all A-list and stuff, seems to recognize that he's too good for this dreck. He sleepwalks through his return as Phil, but maybe that's because the bulk of his character has been reduced to repeating "Who gives a f**k"? until the audience finally agrees with him. Galifianakis has always been a one-trick pony but he's especially uninspired this time, even as Alan takes center stage. Helms is the franchise's secret weapon, but even he is given less to do than normal, although his constantly-startled reactions are still a real hoot. All of the camaraderie that made these guys at least seem like real friends is gone. Without the benefit of alcohol or drugs leaving them in a stupor, these are shockingly uninteresting people. They're all married now and sober, and that's kind of how this entire film is. It's like a recovering alcoholic who now just wants to stay in and watch Wheel of Fortune on Saturday night. Not the least bit fun, and certainly not who you want to spend much time with.

As the action heads to Tijuana, the gang does quickly find Chow, and he's more unbearable than ever. But whereas he used to be something of a random element of psychopathic chaos thrown into the mix, now he's just a screechy, constant irritant. Dogs are killed, cocaine-snorting chickens are gunned down, oh...and familiar characters are murdered in cold blood. Again, does this sound like The Hangover? Homes are busted into, bad jokes fall like a ton of bricks, and there's the sense that maybe this was never meant to be a comedy to begin with. If Phillips' goal was to make a heist film, which is essentially what this amounts to, why not do it elsewhere? There's a certain bravery in upending our expectations, but doing it in the final film of a popular trilogy is misguided at best. Even as Phillips is forging in this new direction, he still wants you to remember everything that made the earlier films memorable. When Phil casually asks Stu if "He's been tested", we instantly remember his brief "encounter" in a Bangkok strip club. It also serves as reminder that the characters used to be the driving force of the humor, but now they're just extras in a dull plot.

There's the hope that a return to Las Vegas, the sinful site of their most raucous escapades, will pump life into the sagging story. Unfortunately, other than the welcome, all-too-brief appearance by Heather Graham, it stays painfully flat. A scene between Alan and the little boy from the first film is cringe-worthy rather than envelope-pushing, and by the time Chow leaps off the top of Caesar's Palace like a sociopathic, drug-addled Asian Batman it's clear this film is running on fumes. Not even Melissa McCarthy, who shows up for maybe five minutes, can illicit much in the way of laughs. Although, she is involved in the film's most raunchy scene, which unfortunately happens during the closing credits....like it was an afterthought.

Whatever. It's over, right? Well...maybe.  Phillips has said repeatedly that this is "The End", but the ending suggests the door could still be open. Hopefully that's not the case. It would be one thing if it was merely forgettable, but The Hangover Part III is actively terrible and a complete buzzkill for anybody who stuck around since the beginning.