Hangover Part III

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Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, Heather Graham
Review: 2 stars (of five)

In fairness, director Todd Phillips was in a difficult situation. Assuming there was any need for a third Hangover film (memo from the studio accountants: There was a need.), how do you pull it off? Do you repeat the bizarre premise of the first two films, in which drugs at a bachelor party result in triple amnesia and an amazing cascade of consequences to unravel?

No, that wouldn’t work a third time (and Phillips even makes a point of showing as much, in a quick gag toward the end of the film). So you have to do something else, find another way to send three or four familiar characters on a series of desperate maneuvers while a clock relentlessly ticks. What Phillips and his co-writers do is go dark, and the result is unpleasant and less funny than either of the first two films.

Films one and two have menace, with criminals, drug dealers, kidnapping, and more. Yet neither feels as dark, and mean-spirited, as emotionally bankrupt as this installment. John Goodman is excellent as a vicious gangster who menaces our heroes and shoots someone in the head as punctuation to a sentence. Is that what you wanted from your gonzo summer comedy?

Maybe part of the problem is the film’s focus is as off as the tone. In the first two films, only one of the three main characters actually changes and grows: Ed Helms’ nerdy dentist, Stu. In the first film, he throws off the shackles of a tyrannical girlfriend. In the second, in which he’s the groom, he stands up to his bullying new father-in-law. In this film, he’s a bystander, with no more of an arc or journey that Bradley Smith’s character.

This time, the journey is Zack Galifianakis. Trouble is, the chubby, coddled, selfish manchild has evolved into a genuine low-grade sociopath, and while he provided good laughs as a supporting character, he’s not remotely likable enough to carry a story. Especially the kind of story this film, with its franchise focus on over-the-top gags and outrageousness, is going to tell.

In sum: Disappointing. It has a few laughs, of course, and a talented cast, but it’s skating entirely on the affection earned from the first two films. Sadly, that’s not enough.

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