“You’re cold as ice.”
Trudging through a sudden downpour in the Fenway area of Boston, co-critic Zack Sharf and I practically swam to the Regal Fenway 13 movie theater in order to see a press screening of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover Part III. Until the rain began, it seemed like a ‘no worries’ kind of activity since it wasn’t conflicting with any school work or classes, like some of the screenings do throughout the year, nor was it going to cost me any money or alleviate me of anything valuable other than time. Well, I should have taken the heavy rain as a bad omen because not only is The Hangover Part III an inarguable waste of time, but it’s also a relentlessly vulgar and unfunny excuse for a comedy that lacks each and every thing that made the 2009 original so likable. It’s bland and empty, superiorly pointless, and so over-the-top offensive that, at times, I almost couldn’t believe I was watching a movie featuring three characters that, four years ago, I was praising as a comedic triumvirate of legendary status. Truthfully, you’d be hard pressed to find a more foul 100 minutes of film.
‘The Wolfpack’ returns in this third and final installment to find an un-medicated Alan (Zack Galifianakis) slowly losing his mind as a stay-at-home forty two-year-old whose unforgivably harmful antics and immature attitude causes his father (Jeffrey Tambor) to have a heart attack. Upon burial, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) decide to stage an intervention and help their sick friend out. Alan eventually agrees to enter a rehabilitation clinic, but the trip becomes sidetracked by a man named Marshall (John Goodman) who is on the hunt for Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), claiming the bizarre Asian criminal stole $20 million from him. Kidnapping Doug and holding him as collateral, Marshall orders that the other three seek out Chow and find the money and then bring them both back to Marshall. If they fail, trigger-happy Marshall won’t hesitate to bring Doug’s life to an end.
Now mind that my reaction here comes with a certain amount of blindness for I never actually saw The Hangover Part II. Scathing reviews and dreadful word of mouth turned me completely off of the sequel and I’ve had no urge to seek it out in the time since. Therefore, if there were character developments or life changing moments of absurdity from the second film that’d therefore affect this film, I didn’t know of them. That being said, I feel like I missed nothing. Other than one reference early on in the film, all other callbacks are to the trilogy’s starting point. Almost all of the original film’s supporting characters return – like Heather Graham’s Jade and Mike Epps’ ‘Black’ Doug – and the trio even makes their way back to the penthouse suite of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. If this were any other trilogy, I’d label these callbacks as fan service, but because this is The Hangover Trilogy, as opposed to a series of real value, all of these references and one-scene appearances are wholly forced. In fact, every time I was supposed to be reminded of how far all these characters had come since The Hangover, I just longed for The Hangover. Watching The Hangover Part III made me remember how phenomenally structured, written, and executed the original film was and The Hangover Part III has none of the charm or heart of the original. It’s void of any kind of soul, really, a recent standard from the bleak and grotesque mind of Todd Phillips. These characters, these actions, this ‘sense of humor’ was not what I remember when the franchise began in 2009. Phillips has carried this franchise into a new realm and I absolutely loathe it.
The Hangover Part III is case and point why you don’t continue a franchise that a) was more than fine as a single, standalone film; and b) is not bringing back the writing team that began it all. Writers Scott Moore and Jon Lucas have actually done little of merit outside of their BAFTA nominated script for The Hangover, but the effort and creativity they provided with that film was spellbinding. Honestly, I loved the character construction and the overarching crudity and chaos all wrapped up into a Vegas-set ‘whodunit.’ It had an attractive hook that, from what I’ve heard, Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scott Armstrong practically carbon copied for The Hangover Part II. Part III reunites Phillips and Mazin (Identity Thief) as scribes, but the formula has been tossed out. Unfortunately, the plot progression is arbitrary and lazily combines nauseating humor (pushing way beyond boundaries that the first film only flirted with) with some ‘heist flick’ tropes, including double crosses and narrative twists. There’s no fluidity, no through line that brings it all together, makes it compelling, or even makes it that watchable. At many points, it’s so drawn out and so torturously unfunny that it seemed to be playing itself as less of a comedy on purpose. This genre indifference didn’t work for me, but I’m curious to see how it’s taken in this weekend.
As far as characterization goes, Galifianakis is provided the most to work with, but again the script’s mostly dark, and very unfocused tone leaves many of what would be Alan’s best scenes very cold and wildly unsettling. A scene that reunites Alan with the baby – ‘Carlos’ – from the first film teeters on bittersweet, but instead settles for a creepy kidnapper-type vibe, and another, featuring a brand new character, Cassie (Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy), is supposed to display a love blooming between two misfits, but it too pushes itself to places which are the opposite of romantic, or funny. One gag involving a lollipop is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Alongside Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper mostly walk through their scenes – Cooper looks particularly bored, but who can blame him after an Oscar nomination last season and better fare like this spring’s The Place Beyond the Pines – and John Goodman strokes a nice fat paycheck when he’s off camera. Ken Jeong is overdone to all kinds of lewd extremes – textbook example of how bringing an ingenious supporting character to the forefront is detrimental – and, once again, poor Justin Bartha is sidelined for practically every bit of action minus the bookends. If there’s a more thankless role in recent memory than ‘White’ Doug, please enlighten me.
The Hangover Part III is as dark and dangy as Spring Breakers, but where Harmony Korine can spin trash as artistic commentary, Todd Phillips just throws trash at the screen and calls it comedy. Outside of Old School and The Hangover, Phillips hasn’t directed or been involved in anything that qualifies as good (last year’s Project X was also this bad) and I think his great handlings of those two films were sheer accidents. It’s still a wonder how he managed to balance The Hangover so deftly with all of its moving parts. I don’t find his humor the least bit clever or witty. The three-way banter is gone, the built-up punch lines are gone, and even the dialogue coming from the characters’ mouths seems wrong. It’s like Phillips stole these ‘three best friends that anyone could have’ and corrupted them beyond repair. Part of the way into the credits, Phillips attempts to bring The Hangover saga to a fully circular close with a wrap-up scene that suggests a potential, but (hopefully) not definite The Hangover Part IV and then pushes well past that extra mile to go for shock humor…but instead it just ends up being one of the most nightmarish things I’ve seen at the movies this year.
The Hangover Trilogy is finished in more ways that one. Todd Phillips has extended this tale of intoxication and debauchery so much that I can see the stretch marks. The tank is empty and the novelty is long gone. ‘The Wolfpack’ needs to hang up their hats and set up an intervention with Todd Phillips for this franchise is frozen at a sour end.
This is the worst movie I’ve seen all year.
Article by Mike Murphy