'The Hangover Part III': The bromance is over
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Advertised as the epic finale of a trilogy, "The Hangover Part III" isn't so much a movie as it is a marketing plan that happens to be projected on movie screens. The first film worked in part thanks to the easy/lazy byplay between its three dude-sketeer leads, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, and in part thanks to the plot's "Memento"-on-meth arc, as the three had to piece together a Vegas bachelor party night they couldn't remember throughout the next bleary, squinty day to find Justin Bartha, the now-missing groom. The second film was a lather, rinse, repeat proposition, this time set in the squalor and splendor of Bangkok and with a little more gay panic in it. This third installment could easily be dismissed as too little, too late, if only it weren't in fact too much, too late. It's like one of those 40-ounce cans of King Cobra malt liquor my hipster-ironist friends loved in their '20s: Way too big and not especially good.
This time, it's not a wedding that brings the group together, but crime: Gangster Marshall (John Goodman, gravelly and intent) had $21 million in gold stolen from under his nose when Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) boosted half the booty from a heist. While driving Alan (Galifianakis) to a rehab facility in Arizona, Stu (Helms), Phil (Cooper) and Doug (Bartha) are abducted by Marshall, who takes Doug hostage and says to the remaining trio that they have three days to find Chow or Doug dies. And so our heroes become reluctant man hunters.
It's worth noting that the first (and best) "Hangover" was written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, with "II" credited to director Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong, and "III" simply credited to Philips and Mazin. In "The Hangover," Jeong's Chow was a bit of garnish, the inedible radish rose among the steak and sides; now, Chow is front and center, and Phillips feels far more enamored with his homicidal hissy fits than the audience does. Phillips also has a unique approach to comedy, in that during those long, laugh-less stretches of the film where another writer-director would insert a joke, he's content to add either a car crash or a scene of our leads shouting at events or each other as loudly as possible.
Our leads are still wedged into the roles they had the first time, with Cooper's Phil an affable slacker rogue, Helms' Stu a neurotic noodge and Galifianakis' Alan an under-medicated man-child; anything more complex is neither requested nor required. "The Hangover Part III" looks great, which is a more polite way of saying it looks expensive, which is the more polite way of saying that it looks far more expensive than it actually needed to be: A CGI joke involving a giraffe in transit and a low bridge is both executed at a karaoke-video level of quality and needlessly mean-spirited and unfunny. Phillips is the kind of director we get for these bloated big-studio comedies right now -- empowered not by craft and talent but by previous success with a brand, with money hosed out at velocity and in profusion to patch the holes in the film like foam insulation to fill cold dead space in your attic.
The worst sin committed by "The Hangover Part III" is that it simply isn't funny. Stu, Phil and Alan wind up playing second fiddle to Chow's screeching one note, while the end of the film is so ponderously self-important it's as if everyone involved thinks the "Hangover" films make "The Godfather" and The Gutenberg Bible look like bathroom graffiti in comparison. The first film was a funny bromance; the second, a less funny bro-lationship; the third film just feels like it's bro-ver before it even begins.
James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com and Cinematical.com. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.