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Non-Review Review: The Hangover, Part III

There was a time when The Hangover seemed like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t so much an original story or set-up. Rather, it was a devil-may-care attitude and unrepentant immaturity. It was bold and it was willing to do absolutely anything it needed to in order to get a laugh. It worked because of that sheer commitment and energy, energy that is mostly absent from this final instalment. “Leslie Chow is madness,” a character boasts at the climax of the film, talking about one of the franchise’s popular recurring characters – but he may as well be talking about the film itself. “You don’t talk to madness,” he insists. “You lock it in your trunk…”

It’s a nice call back to the very first film and the first time we met Ken Jeong’s “Mr. Chow”, but it also speaks to the weaknesses of The Hangover, Part III. Somewhere along the way, the madness was lost. The high-octane “anything can happen” spirit of the original film leaked out of the two sequels. I’m fonder of The Hangover, Part II than most, but it is a cheap imitation, a repeat of a joke that was hilarious the first time and passable a second.

It’s to the credit of Todd Phillips that he doesn’t try to emulate the same formula a third time. I appreciate that a few efforts are made to push the trilogy into a shape resembling a circle, but it feels so much more contained and so much more rote than it did all those years ago.

I wouldn't get too excited, Alan...

I wouldn’t get too excited, Alan…

There are a few significant missteps with The Hangover, Part III, suggesting some underlying problems. The most obvious flaw is perhaps the one that is easiest to understand. The threequel pushes the character of Alan to the fore, making the story about Alan. That might not seem like a big deal. After all, Alan was the instigator of the previous two adventures, and he has always been the best defined and most hilarious of the “Wolf Pack.”

While Bradley Cooper has emerged as a leading man in his own right with credible dramatic performances in Silver Linings Playbook and The Place Beyond the Pines, Zach Galifianakis emerged as the breakout comedic star of The Hangover. On the virtue of Alan alone, Galifianakis secured his place as a comedic actor deserving top billing opposite Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date and Will Ferrell in The Campaign. So you can understand why centring the film around Alan might seem like a good idea in theory.

Leaving on a high note?

Leaving on a high note?

The film even posits Chow as Alan’s evil counterpart, a reckless sociopath with absolutely no moral conscience, but one who clear enjoys the suffering he causes. (On the other hand, we’re invited to sympathise with Alan because he’s mostly oblivious.) When Alan points out that his adventures with Chow always end up with people dying or getting wounded, Chow shrugs. “That’s the point,” he responds.

However, Alan isn’t a strong enough character to anchor a film like this. Here, more than in The Hangover, Part II, Phil and Stu are reduced to little more than sidekicks. The trio doesn’t really exist, and the movie is bereft of development or character exploration outside of Alan. Granted, Phil’s aggressive tendencies toward hedonism and Stu’s hilarious mistakes were hardly the most impressive character developments in the history of comedy, they at least gave the first two films a sense of progress and structure, something sorely lacking here.

Throwing in the towels...

Throwing in the towels…

The main problem is that – quite frankly – Alan seems incapable of change or growth. If you change him or if he learns anything, he ceases to be Alan as we know him. It’s okay for Stu to realize that his fiancé is not a nice woman, or to prove himself to his father-in-law; these things don’t fundamentally remove what makes Stu interesting as a character. Alan is fascinating and exciting precisely because he refuses to change, or to think of others. If you alter that, you undermine what makes the character work. And doing that negates the appeal of making him the central character. That’s a pretty big flaw.

Another problem stems from the fact that Phillips doesn’t seem to want to make another Hangover film. This sounds like a catch-22 situation. Make it too similar (like the last one) and you attract a lot of criticism. Make it too distinct and you come under fire. It’s tempting to imagine producing a sequel to a break-out comedy as a lose-lose proposition. However, the problem isn’t that Phillips tries to shake things up here. I actually appreciate the change of pace and the decision not to do the familiar “guys wake up with no memory in [place]” set-up that could easily become routine.

I have been, and always shall be, your friend... Oh, wait, wrong sequel...

I have been, and always shall be, your friend…
Oh, wait, wrong sequel…

The Hangover has always balanced action and comedy, with much of the series’ humour stemming from action going horribly (and possibly hilariously) wrong. However, with The Hangover, Part III, it seems like Phillips wants to make a film leaning more towards a generic action film than a comedy. The fact he essentially structures the film as a chase movie doesn’t help. There’s a sense that this isn’t really a Hangover film, just a generic action comedy with the details draped over it.

Which brings us to an interesting point. Despite the fact that the “mood”, for lack of a better word, feels a little off, the movies tries to hard to compensate by tying into the first film. Certain touches, like the return to Vegas or even putting Chow back where we first met him, feel like an appropriate way of closing a comedy trilogy. However, other references feel forced. When we’re introduced to Marshall, the film’s bad guy, we’re assured that he was hinted at in the first movie. The events of this film are seeded, we’re assured, through both of the first two films. As if trying to prove it, the film offers us flashback footage of somebody saying the name “Marshall.”

End of the road?

End of the road?

This feels a little too trite, a little too convenient, a little too laboured. There’s a weird sense of self-importance here, which feels ironic for a film series which prided itself on its irreverence. When Marshall refers to “the Wolf Pack”, there’s no sense of knowing self-aware irony. He might as well be describing a crack team of foreign commandos who always get their man. It feels like The Hangover, Part III insists upon its own importance, and is trying to make a valid argument that this is a trilogy of careful constructed cinema. It feels a little heavy-handed. There’s even moralising and important lessons to be learned at the end, all rendered in a po-faced manner.

However, there’s a more immediate and obvious problem. The Hangover, Part III lacks a lot of the wonderful comedic setpieces which helped the original become such a classic. There’s nothing here on the same level as Chow jumping out of the trunk, or even Alan demonstrating how tazers work to a bunch of eager schoolkids. There are “big” moments, but the movies most effectively “out there” gag comes early on as an instigator of the plot rather than a part of it. The movie could have used more of that.

Alarms going off?

Alarms going off?

The Hangover, Part III feels like a disappointment. I appreciate attempts to break with the formula, but the film labours too hard to connect to its predecessors. Its focus seems off and – most damning of all – it’s just not that funny.

4 Responses

  1. Sad to read this… Was really looking forward to The Hangover III…:/

    • To be fair, it’s just my opinion. It’s what I took from the film screening, although I don’t think too many others in the cinema were more impressed. If you want to see it, go see it and make up your own mind. Pop back and let me know what you make of it, if you do.

  2. I TOTALLY agree with the author! The movie was not, in fact, funny. It was just “okay”, but a total disappointment, as the first two were hilarious! Thanks for your review.

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