There’s a scene in The Hangover Part III that captures all the energy, inventiveness, and raunchiness of the original film. The scene, which I will not spoil, culminates in a moment so uproarious that it had the entire audience I watched the film with howling with laughter. Unfortunately for us, it’s the only moment in the entire movie that elicited such a response. What’s worse – it comes after the end credits start rolling. For its preceding 100 minutes, The Hangover Part III is an astonishingly asinine and unfunny movie that stands as an embarrassment for everyone involved, from stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and writer-director Todd Phillips to cinematographer Lawrence Sher to even its sound guys. It’s an abomination masquerading as a comedy.
Unlike Part II, which duplicated the formula of the first film to the level of plagiarism, Part III threads a different route – one of an action comedy. Alan (Galifianakis), the series’ friendly neighborhood man-child, is going through a rough phase. After the death of his father, he’s has been acting out in ways that are strange even for his stratospheric level of lunacy. To see him through it, Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms), along with thankless buddy Doug (Justin Bartha) stage an intervention and embark on a road trip to a rehabilitation center in BFE Arizona.
But the trip is instantly cut short when they’re nabbed by Marshall (John Goodman), a local drug lord who, for reasons too banal and contrived to get into, is after Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Since he’s too inept to capture the insufferable sociopath himself, Marshall makes a deal with the guys: Either find and capture Chow or watch helplessly as poor Doug gets his brain splattered all over the California desert. After a trail leading to Chow takes them to Mexico and back, the action then returns to, rather predictably, where it all began in the first place: Vegas. But unlike the first film, the journey there is far from satisfactory.
What made The Hangover work was its clever conceit, inventiveness, and sparkling situational comedy. Furthermore, it was bolstered by a trio of terrific comedic performances. Cooper’s charisma, Helms’ neurosis and Galifianakis’ eccentricity were an indelible combo, and that balance was a big reason why the film still stands as one of the most popular comedies ever made. The biggest problem of The Hangover Part III is that it uproots that balance by reducing Cooper and Helms, the film’s top-billed stars, to passive observers, and focusing on Galifianakis and Jeong as the film’s central characters. Perhaps it’s a good thing because Cooper, who has since become a respected Oscar-nominated actor, is visibly bored and seems to have signed on for the film as a favor to Phillips for launching his now sparkling career. Helms too, whose hilarious reactions were at the crux of some of the previous movies’ best moments, is largely wasted.
The only performers who look like they’re trying are Galifianakis and Jeong but there’s the inherent problem – their characters are only worth watching in small doses. While Alan may have been an awkward social misfit in the previous films, he’s graduated to all-out lunatic here. Even still, that mistake pales in comparison to Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin’s monumental mistake to upgrade Chow, one of the vilest, most grating and annoying characters in recent memory, from a minor nuisance to an honorary member of the Wolfpack. Jeong, for the most part is a comedian with two skills: being exceedingly irritating and incredibly obnoxious. And Chow, his worst creation, is all that, dialed to 11.
Although the second film got a lot of flack for being too much like its predecessor, at least it had its share of gut-busting funny moments, something this movie, save for the end credits scene, completely lacks. Every joke here – which include giraffe decapitations, lame references to Words with Friends, Billy Joel, dumb physical gags, awkward homophobic touches, and drawn out scenes of Chow singing karaoke – are cheap, lazy and misguided. Even Melissa McCarthy, who makes a cameo here as a potential love interest of Alan, is underutilized in a scene that is more nauseating than funny.
Lazy, dumb, vile and flat-out unfunny, The Hangover Part III is a waste of talent, a waste of time, and will almost certainly be a waste of your money. Even taken as an action comedy or a kidnapping comedy, or mindless entertainment, the film is a failure. It’s clearly, and by a long distance, the biggest misfire of 2013 so far, and stands as proof that the first film, whatever its faults, was lightening captured in a bottle. Perhaps it’s telling that even Mike Tyson opted to skip making an appearance.