There are two deaths within the first five minutes of The Hangover Part III. One of them will not be described here since it involves a minor plot surprise. But the other is worth mentioning. Alan, the nerdy character played by Zach Galifianakis, is driving home with a giraffe in a trailer attached to his sports car. Since the animal has to duck under a couple of freeway underpasses, it isn’t hard to guess what might happen next. The poor creature is graphically decapitated, causing a massive freeway pileup.
“This is an early sign of the movie’s desperation. PETA and other animal lovers should be warned, as there are a few other dead animals on the horizon. Hangover III is so determined to defy political correctness that it breaks one of the last cinematic taboos. Any schlockmeister can slaughter hundreds of people on camera, but how many filmmakers dare to kill dogs, other mammals, and even smother a rooster?
But this cavalier attitude toward the killing of animals is just about the only eyebrow-raising touch in an otherwise tame and pallid climax to the Hangover trilogy. Young viewers looking for unbridled raunch will be sadly disappointed, and so will other moviegoers expecting more than a few wan chuckles. This picture is like a brightly colored balloon with all the comic air seeping out.
The first Hangover was honestly outrageous and frequently hilarious, but it’s worth remembering that it also had a very clever story devised by screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Part II, which was co-written by the director of all three films, Todd Phillips, was bigger but not better, though it did have a few memorable jolts of lewd, crude humor. Part III is a step further down, and there were very few laughs from the young male viewers recruited at the screening I attended. That won’t hurt the initial box office numbers, which will be huge, but word of mouth may kick in and puncture the grosses after the first weekend.
As the giraffe scene indicates, the new movie opens by suggesting that Alan is in serious need of help. With the instigation of his family, the other members of the Wolfpack—Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha)—decide to stage an intervention and drive him to a rehab facility in Arizona. They don’t get too far into the desert when they are stopped by a menacing mobster named Marshall (John Goodman), who blames them for the theft of some gold bars that were stolen from him by the Asian gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has bedeviled the pals since the first movie. The ever hapless Doug is taken hostage, and to save his life, the other three have to find Chow and the gold. And so the mayhem begins.
Their quest takes them to a mansion in Mexico, a jail in Tijuana, and eventually back to Las Vegas, where their adventures started. At a pawnshop in Sin City, Alan meets his soulmate, played by Melissa McCarthy in a cameo that is one of the movie’s only bright spots. The other cast members seem to be just going through the motions. After his Oscar-nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook and his even deeper performance in The Place Beyond the Pines, Cooper doesn’t have to do much heavy lifting here. He still manages to be charming, and Galifianakis trots out his typical dorky shtick with some aplomb. But Helms is surprisingly lackluster on this outing, and Jeong was more startlingly funny in the earlier installments. The Hangover series has never offered much opportunity to its female performers. Heather Graham returns, but her new incarnation as pregnant hausfrau is completely unrewarding.
There is one spectacular stunt which forces Phil and Alan to dangle from the roof of Caesars Palace. Otherwise, the visuals are as flat as the script. Sequels are rarely rewarding, but this sorry retread of a once inspired comedy only confirms the bankruptcy of sequel mania. At least it’s fairly short, and although a bizarre end-credit sequence seems to be opening the door for another chapter, the filmmakers have promised that this will be the end of The Hangover. We can only hope.