Years from now, when people discuss the best comedies of this generation, I fully expect 2009's "The Hangover" to feature prominently in their conversation. Although it certainly had its detractors, it was widely found to be quite funny, a consensus made by both the movie going public and the critic community.
Its sequel, which can more appropriately be called a remake, was less successful in terms of quality because comedy requires the element of surprise to work and surprises were few and far between due to recycled jokes and plot lines. This week's "The Hangover Part III" abandons the narrative structure of the previous films and successfully sets itself apart. Unfortunately, it's one of the only things it's successful at doing.
This time, the boys don't have anything crazy planned. They have moved past the events from the previous two movies and are content with their lives, that is except for Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who tries to fill his emptiness with things like the purchasing of a giraffe, which he promptly and accidentally decapitates soon after. His wild life has led Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) to stage an intervention.
This convinces Alan to enter rehab to get his life under control, but on the way, a drug kingpin named Marshall (John Goodman) rams them off the road. It turns out Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has stolen over $20 million in gold from him. Mr. Chow's whereabouts are unknown since his escape from a prison near Bangkok, so he figures the Wolfpack may be able to find him. He takes Doug hostage and gives the trio three days to get his money back. Otherwise, Doug is dead.
The most common criticism that "The Hangover Part II" received was that it followed too closely to its predecessor. It's a fair complaint, but it's also understandable. Director Todd Phillips had something special with the first movie, a comedy that fired on all cylinders, provided plenty of laughs, had likable characters and a story with an intriguing mystery at its core. To want to recreate that magic a second time is perfectly reasonable, even if it did ultimately fail.
But "The Hangover Part III" is another beast altogether. It does nothing but coast by on the franchise name and star power of its leads. It has no material to sustain a full length movie, only the thinnest of paper thin plots to move it along and jokes that oftentimes can hardly be considered such.
The jokes this time come at a far less frequent pace (and legitimate laughs even less so). Large chunks of the movie go by with nary a joke in sight, the only humorous moments coming from Galifianakis' goofy demeanor and not from a witty script. This comes as no surprise since Galifianakis is the only one even trying, the others merely coasting by for the paycheck, clearly uninterested in what's going on, but it's a futile attempt. Galifianakis' character was always written as the dimwitted one, the one that spoke before thinking, but his simplemindedness from the previous movies has now devolved into outright cruelty.
Few would argue that the characters were walking examples of morality in the other movies, but much of their meanness came from name calling and harsh jokes among themselves, a normal occurrence between male friends. Here, the characters spill glasses on purpose for the house maid to clean up, verbally abuse old ladies in motorized wheelchairs and talk poorly to their mothers, to the point where Alan even wishes his mother dead.
Cruelty does not equate to comedy, a revelation made clear by recent debacles like "Bachelorette" and "Project X," yet that's nearly all "The Hangover Part III" has to offer. What little actual jokes it does have are unfunny or rehashes of other familiar jokes, like the model building joke from "Zoolander." Its locations—prisons, funerals and interventions, just to name a few—simply aren't ripe for comedy and very few movies with similar settings pull it off (the 2007 British film "Death at a Funeral" being a standout exception).
Although I'm sure many will prefer this narratively new film over the rehash that was "Part II," this is nevertheless far worse. At least "Part II" tried. It was a lazy attempt, but it had a desire to be funny. This has no comedic flow or energy and laughs are scarce. What's worse, the focus on Alan and Mr. Chow relegates both Stu and Phil to sidekicks who are given little to do. "The Hangover Part III" is a comedic abomination and, as a third entry to one of the funniest movies in recent memory, a colossal disappointment.