I saw The Hangover Part III unexpectedly when, after I originally not planned to bother, one of my workmates suggested it and I decided “Why not?” Damning reviews and user comments had lowered my expectations, so I did not anticipate being impressed, but low expectations have previously led to pleasant surprises (see Olympus Has Fallen), so I approached Todd Phillips’ final (?) adventure of the Wolf Pack with an open mind.
To be fair, I was not exactly disappointed because I had not expected very little, and it is very easy to make me laugh. The last laugh-free comedy I saw was The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller, 1996) on TV, and The Hangover Part III is similarly unfunny. But it lacks laughs for a different reason, which makes it an interesting continuation/conclusion (hopefully) to the franchise. The Cable Guy is not funny because all of its jokes are creepy, based around the premise of Jim Carrey’s character being borderline psychotic. Hardly great comedic material, which is a shame because writer/director Ben Stiller went on to find great humour in male models (Zoolander, 2001) and Hollywood stars (Tropic Thunder, 2008). The Hangover Part III is a different beast because it deviates from the formula of its previous instalments, making it a sequel mainly by virtue of its characters, although some plot elements continue from the first and second films. The first film featured the bachelor party in Las Vegas that went horribly wrong and the Wolf Pack had to find their missing friend. The second one had exactly the same premise, but cranked up to 11, set in Bangkok and with rather more racist humour. Part III is less comedic and more dramatic, as the Wolf Pack pursues Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). The opening scene in a Thai prison explicitly references The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994), and the evasion of danger remains a conceit throughout, as Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage by Marshall (John Goodman) while Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zack Galifianakis) attempt to find Chow. Their escapades include breaking into a heavily fortified house and invading the penthouse suite of a Las Vegas hotel, as well as grappling with some fighting cocks (don’t ask).
While these stunts are dramatic they are not particularly funny, and much of the film feels as though the characters have stepped out of their genre into something more akin to Ocean’s Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001) or Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988). But the action scenes are not gripping enough to be exciting nor crazy enough to be funny. In a standout moment, Phil and Alan abseil down a rope of sheets from the roof of a hotel to the balcony below. Alan (of course) loses his grip and Phil tells him to drop down but not to push off; Alan (of course) pushes off and almost falls off to his death, Phil pulling him back in the nick of time. I found this sequence dramatic, but as I swallowed my heart back into my chest, I wondered why it wasn’t funny. It is not that the scene could not be funny because it was a brush with death – such narrow escapes are played for laughs in films as varied as Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) – but this scene is played straight, with Alan’s mental peculiarity simply a device that almost kills him.
The lack of humour in Alan’s madness is particularly annoying, because the scenes that do play it for laughs are among the funnier moments, such as his eulogy at his father’s funeral and reaction to his friends’ intervention. His first scene in the film involves a giraffe-related motor vehicle accident, which is funny in a horrific way (much like the tazering scene in the first film). Alan and Chow demonstrating their peculiar friendship is passingly amusing, as are Chow’s intoxicated outbursts. At one point, Chow parachutes off a tall building, singing “I Believe I Can Fly” and proclaiming his adoration of cocaine. Stu catches him on the roof of a limousine and has to drive blind before almost killing Chow when he stops suddenly. Had this scene been simply a crazy stunt, it might have been funny, but the stakes are such that if Chow gets away, Doug will be killed, and this neuters the humour because the two elements are not meshed together. This is the film’s fundamental problem – it continually feels like two films jostling for dominance, and both end up losing. Freshness in this case spoils the recipe, and the bursts of familiarity feel like another film trying to re-establish itself without success.
There are enough of these bursts to indicate what The Hangover Part III might have been. Best of these is Alan finding love (seriously) with Cassie (Megan McCarthy), as their scenes are both funny and touching. Alan’s romance suggests the film I would have liked to see, with the Wolf Pack preparing for Alan and Cassie’s wedding, and then in a post credits scene they wake up the morning after asking “What the hell happened?” That would have actually been The Hangover Part III, and considering how outrageous the events appear to have been (boob job?!), I predict the results would be hilarious, or at least wild, zany and shocking. Unfortunately, the film we get is none of these things, because it tries to be something other than a Hangover film. The franchise’s laddish, outrageous and sometimes shocking type of humour is not for everyone, but at least the first two films committed to this and delivered wild and zany humour. Part III’s failure to deliver on this front results in a film that is confused, misguided and deeply unsatisfying, providing a few laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to justify the involvement of the talent involved nor the investment of the cinema viewer. Perhaps it’ll work better on DVD, especially if drunk. Just be careful what you drink…