Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Hangover Part III

Review by Pamela Zoslov

There was an episode of I Love Lucy in which Desi Arnaz, as Ricky, made a mistake in his lines. The spontaneous error was so charming the director wanted to leave it in the show, but a technical problem required that the scene be reshot. Desi tried to repeat his endearing goof, but the magic was gone.

That's how it is with movie sequels. It's usually impossible to capture the qualities that made the original film successful. No one predicted that THE HANGOVER, the 2009 comedy about four dudes' crazy misadventures in Vegas, would be a hit, but it transcended the raunchy-comedy fray with a funny script, a likeable cast of non-stars, and a twisty plot that found room for Mike Tyson and his pet tigers. At the time, it was the highest-grossing R-rated comedy to date, and predictably, it launched a franchise. The sequels, the darkly misanthropic THE HANGOVER PART II and now, THE HANGOVER PART III, the last of the trilogy, make it hard to remember what we ever saw in THE HANGOVER.


What did we see in you, HANGOVER? What we liked, probably, was Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's script, which created the characters and made their situation (in Vegas for a wedding, three guys wake up hung over and unable to find the groomsman), with its escalating absurdity, funny and convincing. Three writers tried to recapture the magic with PART II, which placed the “wolf pack” – including the by then more famous Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis – in Bangkok for another wedding. The movie, which relied on the same gags, including ghastly things happening to animals (a capuchin monkey), was ugly and grimly unfunny. In Part III (henceforth HPIII), the ill-fated wild animal is a giraffe, which the disturbed man-child Alan (Galifianakis), has bought now that he's “off his meds.” (Alan's character, merely eccentric in THE HANGOVER, has degenerated into full-blown pathology.) While not as dark as Part II, HPIII, written by director Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin, has precious few laughs and a shopworn, going-through-the-motions feeling.

What humor there is mostly occurs in the early scenes. Alan's wealthy dad (a sadly underused Jeffrey Tambor) threatens to cut off Alan's financial support unless he gets help (Alan is 42 and still living at home). Alan responds by defiantly slapping on his headphones and cranking up “My Life” by his beloved Billy Joel, oblivious to his dad writhing on the floor dying of a heart attack.

After Alan's dad's funeral, the family stages an intervention, and the “wolf pack” – Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) – are enlisted drive Alan to a treatment facility in another state. Their vehicle is run off the road by the criminal kingpin Marshall (John Goodman), a figure mentioned in THE HANGOVER, as clips of the earlier, better movie helpfully remind us (after all, it's not like people have the finer plot points of THE HANGOVER burned into their brains). Marshall has a beef with the calamitous criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, the medical doctor-cum-comedy star), something involving $42 million in stolen gold. Alan, because he's so nutty, has kept up a correspondence with Chow, who has recently escaped from a maximum-security prison in Bangkok. Marshall demands that Phil, Doug and Alan find Chow, and takes Stu hostage – a nod to the convention that has Stu always left out of the HANGOVER action.

The rest is fairly run-of-the-mill caper-and-chase stuff. A house is broken into, the guys are double-crossed, their van is stolen, animals are harmed (this time, some guard dogs). Heather Graham reappears as Jade, now a married mom and no longer a hooker. Alan finds a love interest in Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), a plus-sized Vegas pawnbroker. Chow sings Nine Inch Nail's “Hurt” in a karaoke bar because he, though essentially a cartoon character, has feelings. Phil and Stu have next to nothing to do except show up and say their lines. Attempts to re-create the funny, improvisatory verbal byplay of the first movie pretty much fail.

While HPIII isn't entirely cynical – that term better describes Part II – it is tired, like a mildly unpleasant hangover after watching the first movie. That's unfortunate, because the silly summer season could use a good comedy, or at least something without major explosions. 2 out of 4 stars.

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