A New Twist, An Old Tale, The Same Result
In the stomach gurgling, head spinning state of being hung over, there is an extended moment when you tell yourself “I’m never drinking again.” Eventually your liver re-processes, your head gets straight, and the alcohol you’ve whiningly demonized doesn’t seem so putrid. You repeat it again the next week, but the same thing happens, and you begin vowing that the third time will be different. Trying to embody this demographically niche problem could have easily been the mentality for director Todd Phillips, whose films have always pandered to and been seemingly stuck in college, or college-like atmospheres. The far more logical (and unfortunate) reason for creating The Hangover Part III and in effect wrapping up (we’ll see) this trilogy of lost memory and drunken reconnaissance is the easily diagnosable condition of Hollywood: money.
Doubtless this last chapter will earn a pretty penny with its established brand name and bankable stars who have all ridden the big wave of fame the first film produced. That one caught us by surprise in 2009 and introduced us to three men so perversely different from each other, a three-buddy comedy outrageously unexpected. But its repetition in Bangkok two years ago proved that a new location couldn’t revitalize an identical story, told in the same comedic beats and rhythms, adding on to the violent and grotesque. This third edition however strays from the backtracking mold of the first two in a desperate attempt to round up the “wolfpack” in relatively distinct circumstances and give closure to a series of films that never really needed it.
The first two scenes of the film involve the coke fueled international criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) escaping from a Thailand prison Shawshank style. Back in California Alan (Zach Galifianakis) motors down the highway with a Giraffe in tow. If there has been an arc to this series at all, it has been the growth of these two characters, and the actors that play them, from being foolish props to plot-centric leads. Infused with a caricaturist portrait of an Asian stereotype, Jeong’s Chow is someone ideal for the margins, the wind up toy that’s destined to say something ludicrous in the right moment until he has to be wound up again. His role has expanded from being a naked man in the trunk of car to being the primary focus of Part III, his mannerisms accepted, his monotonous drivel with less bite. The fool often shines in the cracks until he becomes spread too thin.
The same could be said for Galifianakis’s Alan, the 42-year-old self-proclaimed stay-at-home son, though the conversation changes in his case. For most of this series we have accepted his social unawareness, his naiveté, his sensitivity shoved into all the wrong places, as simply being poorly parented. But as he turns around to look at the multi-car wreckage he has produced after decapitating his newly bought giraffe under a bridge, he gives just a mild grimace. Something is wrong with this man and it’s not just a sheltered upbringing. We laugh at his inane jokes, his inconvenient questions, his feminine T-shirts and crippling priorities, but we rarely laugh with him. The dialogue over mental conditions can be noted, somewhat more overtly this time around, but it is too large a topic for Phillips to bring into a movie like this, or even be discussed seriously by Alan’s friends and family.
That’s how the plot initially starts after Alan’s father (Jeffrey Tambor) dies of a heart attack (Alan’s headphones were too loud to help save him). Alan’s mother, sister, and brother-in-law Doug (Justin Bartha) regroup with Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) to host an intervention for Alan and convince him he needs treatment after he’s stopped taking his medication. The four drive down to Arizona to the treatment center not before being kidnapped and held at gunpoint by men in pig masks led by a big-talker named Marshall, played straight and angry by John Goodman. He wants the 21 million dollars worth of gold bars that were stolen from him by Chow, and they’re the only four who might know where he is, alluding to a scene from the first film. He gives them three days to find Chow and return his loot, and takes Doug as collateral, out of the picture again, naturally.
So the unlucky, but hardened triumvirate hit the road again, searching not for their memory but the man responsible for their first and hopefully last misfortune. There are no hangovers in this film (unless you count the post-credits) and Part III really turns into just a back hills chasing caper. In this sense, it loses some of its soul, the mystery and intrigue of watching men try to recover bits and pieces of their shattered nightlife that in large part had nothing to do with alcohol, and a lot to do with potent, misplaced drugs. The film is then left largely to the hands of Chow and Alan, whose jokes hit and miss with an unsettling equivalence. Such is the burden of viewing these man-children, who have ceased to really learn anything except the inner workings of the legal system.
Part of their journey takes them back to Las Vegas, the birthing place of their Rufied bachelor trip and poor decisions, but their sober presence dims the city’s lucid experience. Heather Graham makes a short-lived unnecessary appearance, as does her toddler, once named Carlos by Alan. A run-in at a pawn shop sparks romance between Alan and the storeowner played by Melissa McCarthy, and Caesar’s Palace becomes another infamous backdrop to the three’s mishandlings. There are drug serums, guard dogs, cockfighters, and a mildly amusing rendition of the song “Hurt.” It sounds like a jumbled mess and it mostly is, except that this is a chronological story and so these tokens of muse really just provide levity to an otherwise darker, dangerous plot.
Phillips forces a few shots at the end that flashback to earlier films of the three walking, dazed but determined, side by side again. If it’s not a gimmicky reminiscence, it’s at most a subtle conceit that there really is no way to end a series like this, no matter how much you try to make it different. These men never change. That’s the tragedy of a comedy like this. Once you’ve got a drink (or in this case two!) in you, it’s hard to know when to quit.